Richard Ford’s Appetite for the Transgressive


Author Richard Ford has built his impressive writing career by producing award-winning, highly regarded fiction that includes, among other novels and short fiction, 1986’s The Sportswriter and its 1995 sequel, Independence Day, for which he earned a Pulitzer Prize. This spring, the 73-year-old explores a far more complicated—and potentially tangled—realm by turning his attention to the lives of his late mother and father for his new memoir, Between Them: Remembering My Parents.

Ford uses what he calls his “panorama of a memory” to delve into his past, splitting the book into two parts. The first half, written in 1981, is dedicated to his mother, Edna, who died of metastatic breast cancer at the age of 70, shortly before Ford began writing about her.

The second half focuses on Ford’s father, Parker, a traveling salesman for Kansas City’s Faultless Starch Company, a manufacturer of household cleaning products. In interviews, Ford has claimed that if his father had not died when he was 16 years old, he, too, would have most likely ended up on the road as a salesman, selling packaged starch products throughout the Midwest and South.

This memoir is an effort on Ford’s part to not only learn more about who Parker and Edna were, but to bring them closer to him in their absence. An enviable task for any son to conduct in private, let alone in public, on the page.

Vanity Fair spoke with Ford at an Upper East Side French cafe about the traumatic experiences that shaped him as a writer; his more pleasant memories, including his father arriving home each Friday from his weekly travels with packages of fresh fish, oysters, and shrimp; and why Ford still believes that, even as a Pulitzer Prize winner, he still remains a “fuck-up.” Yes, even Pulitzer Prize winners can think of themselves as “fuck-ups.”

Vanity Fair: Your father passed away when you were only 16 years old. How proud do you think he would have been to have later witnessed your success as a Pulitzer Prize-winning author?

Richard Ford: That’s a more complicated question than you might imagine. I think he would probably wonder why I didn’t have a job. If he lived—and if he hadn’t died when I was 16—I wouldn’t be a writer. He would have taken me in hand long before the first urgings to be a writer came into my brain, and he would have put me to work, probably for the Faultless Starch Company. I would’ve done it, and that would’ve been fine.

When reading your book, it struck me as just how difficult, just how murky, it is to write about the past, let alone one’s own past. Approaching this subject matter—and writing this book—could not have been easy for you.

You know, truthfully, it was. That part of passing a threshold was natural to me because I have this panorama of a memory. I have a remarkable memory. I had all this stuff floating around in my notebook. To get it out of those notes, and to put them together and to get it out of my brain, was a huge relief. I’m not an overly sensitive person. When people ask, “Was it difficult?”, the answer is almost always no. I’m just not smart enough to be bothered, in a way. I just did it. I think that if you’re a writer, you write. Sometimes you write this way and sometimes you write that way.

But these weren’t fictional characters you were writing about.

That’s right. As I say in the memoir, my parents are not made of words, they’re made of life and blood and experience. The only hard part was that because my father had been absent so much—I don’t really know for how long, but many, many years—how I was going to make his absence be anything but a detriment?

Kindness ~ Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952 … thank you Dick Dorworth


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

What is floating out into the world?



“Otagaki Rengetsu: Poetry and Artwork from a Rustic Hut”

“Rengetsu is perhaps best known for the exquisite vessels that she crafted for both the sencha and the chanoyu traditions of tea drinking. However, she also created a great number of bottles, flasks and cups for another beverage – sake.” Meher McArthur, The Sake Wares of Otagaki Rengetsu, Black Robe White Mist.

“Standard bearers (yarimochi yakko) headed up the processions of feudal lords (daimyo). Upon hearing one herald the imminent arrival of the lord, villagers prepared to show obeisance by bowing when he passed (usually in a palanquin or on horseback). In her poem, Rengetsu wonders if the male protagonist seeking to reach his lady is as determined as a yakko is when hoisting this standard in straight, forceful thrusts. The Osaka Gate was a checkpoint along the Tokaido Nakasendo roads, passing through Kyoto and Shiga. Official papers were usually required for passage, and their acceptance was subject to the discretion of the guards.”

“The Wisteria Maiden (Fuji Musume) is one of a set of five Kabuki dances based on characters from Otsu-e (pictures from Otsu, a town just outside of Kyoto on the shores of lake Biwa) The story begins with a young man admiring a painting of a young lady in a window in Otsu. She looks back, growing so infatuated with him that she steps right out of the painting, becoming flesh and blood, wearing gorgeous robes and a lacquered hat, carrying a branch of blooming wisteria. She dances for him and vows are exchanged. Soon, he proves to a neglectful lover with a wandering eye. There is a famous scene in which, after quarrelling, the lovers reconciled with sake, making the design especially appropriate for a Sake flask.”

INHALING LIFE WITH JIM HARRISON By Mario Batali March 18, 2017 ~ The New Yorker


One night back in 2000, a beleaguered author who was not so hot on the idea of any book tour, but was nevertheless on a book tour, appeared at my restaurant Babbo, in New York. Jim Harrison and I had written letters to each other, but had never met, and little did I know then how he would go on to become one of my closest friends. In tow were a few members of his publishing team, a book editor from the New York Times, and a handful of other lucky food lovers from New York City. Jim was hungry, thirsty, joyously friendly, and characteristically overeager for the first course to come out of the kitchen. Jim’s appetite was legendary, and nothing makes a cook quite so happy as someone who exists entirely to eat—and when not eating, to talk about eating, to hunt and fish for things to eat, or to spend time after eating talking about what we just ate.

That night we ate just about every non-grocery-store cut of every animal I served. The meal ran to fifteen courses: from one of Jim’s favorites, our Babbo-made testa, with my dad’s finocchiona and culatello, to lamb’s-tongue vinaigrette, tripe in the style of Parma, and both beef-cheek and calf’s-brains ravioli; from light love letters of goose liver, crispy sweetbreads dusted in fennel pollen and finished with duck bacon and membrillo vinaigrette, on to squab with barlotto, quail with salsify, and duck with brovada; finishing with a whole series of desserts. Jim relished in the unabashed frivolity of this meal; he would talk about “tripe,” sure enough, there it came, and a tale of hunting would beget the birds shot in the story. We drank ’82 and ’85 Barolos, both in magnum, then a double mag of Le Pergole Torte, then back to the north for some Gaja Barbaresco with which we ate a couple of robiolas and a mountain gorgonzola with housemade black-truffle honey.

Our friendship moved from pen pals to real pals that night, and I knew I had finally shaken hands, shared abrazos fuertes, and broken bread with not only an eternal friend but a mentor, a spiritual leader, a confidant, and a man who shared my passion for all things above and beyond the world of food, and who wrote sentences that stretched beyond the wildest poetry of my imagination, resonating with stories of the friends and associates who eat well, drink Lambrusco and vin de pays as well as Bordeaux from the fifties and sixties, work hard, play hard, and experience the natural world in full.

A couple of years later, after a mere ten-course meal celebrating the magnificent white truffle at Babbo, I walked Jim back to his hotel. He stayed regularly at the Inn at Irving Place, near Gramercy Park, a charming hotel that allowed smoking—a deal-breaker for Jim—and was close to the Spanish restaurant that our team opened in 2003, Casa Mono. It was after 11 p.m., closing time, and we had consumed as much food as was humanly possible. We discussed his obsession with Antonio Machado the entire walk home. As we turned the corner to his hotel, Jim peered into the candlelit Casa Mono and then leaned in. “Mario, do you think we could just get a little taste of those fabulous oxtails in piquillo peppers you do here on a little bread, just for the taste in my mouth, please? Just a taste,” he bashfully whispered, “it reminds me of Lorca.”

“You bet, Jimmy,” I said. And a quick little bottle of Priorat to wash it all down, five American Spirits on the stoop, and off to bed. I have never seen a man so happy in his pursuit of pleasure. And, from that moment on, we were friends for life.

Jim and I shared many qualities: an unending appetite, inhaling life to the full chorizo, finding hilarious and playful nuance in every breath and every moment, but I always was and remain the student. Jim was sharper, more in tune with the distant cry of the loon over the lake while fishing on a lazy Tuesday morning, more sensitive to the moonlight over Washington Square Park on a dusk walk toward the Babbo apartment, where he sometimes stayed. Jim lived art not as a method to distill his thoughts but as a categorical way of understanding life, a quest to quench an insatiable thirst for all it put before him. And to share that understanding with any and every person he met.

But Jim was not all Zen, and certainly not patient. We once shared a slightly overlong supper at the Michelin three-star restaurant Eleven Madison Park, in New York, where he fidgeted through most of the complex meal, announcing early on in his loud baritone to the entire dining room, “Maaaario, you know I am much more of a trattoria kind of guy,” and finally sending his chicken back to the kitchen, because the chef had somehow denied him “THE FUCKING LEGS . . . where are THE FUCKING LEGS . . . ?” When we cooked together he was often at my shoulder with cooking tips and timing questions. “Are you going to stir that?” or “Remember I like it medium rare, not a degree over, damn it,” while cooking a three-inch-thick ribeye from Carnevino on his parrilla in Arizona. By the time we were seated he grudgingly admitted to the deliciousness of the meal and to the success of yet another of our collaborations . . . It always gave me infinite joy.



Photo taken from Lion’s Roar magazine July, 2017.


Frank Deford, NPR’s Longtime Philosopher Of Sports, Dies At 78 ~ NPR


Updated at 3:04 p.m. ET

Through nearly four decades, five presidential administrations and seemingly countless Super Bowls and World Series, NPR listeners could depend on at least one thing in the ever-unpredictable world of athletics: Frank Deford. A mainstay on Morning Edition, the Hall of Fame sportswriter was public radio’s scholar of sports for some 37 years before hanging up his cleats earlier this year.

Deford died Sunday at the age of 78 at his home in Key West, Fla., his wife confirmed to NPR. He leaves behind an astonishing 1,656 commentaries for NPR.

“The wonderful thing about delivering sports commentary on NPR was that because it has such a broad audience, I was able to reach people who otherwise had little or no interest in sport — especially as an important part of our human culture,” Deford said upon his retirement earlier this year.

“Nothing made me happier than to hear from literally hundreds of listeners who would tell me how much the commentaries revealed about a subject they otherwise had never cared much for. I’ll forever be grateful to NPR that they gave me such extraordinary freedom. … It was 37 years of a fond relationship.”

As NPR’s Tom Goldman notes, that relationship didn’t exactly begin as a long-term commitment. In fact, at the time he was recruited by a Morning Edition that was still in its infancy, Deford hadn’t expected to contribute his commentaries for more than a few months.

After all, back in 1979, Deford was already one of the star writers at Sports Illustrated, having already been with the magazine for about a decade and a half. He was an accomplished sportswriter, producing pieces that would ultimately earn him the honor of U.S. Sportswriter of the year six times, according to SI. He had nothing to prove.

Still, he embraced the opportunity.

“I am something of a ham,” he told Tom earlier this month. “Yeah, I’d always been a writer. But in high school I acted in plays. So it wasn’t as if you had to drag the words out of my vocal chords.”

And so what began as a brief gig in 1980 became a deep and lasting relationship with NPR’s listeners. Each week, he would voice opinions both creative and controversial, references to Shakespeare and scathing takedowns — not just of commissioners but even occasionally entire sports, as some ice hockey and soccer fans may still remind you.

His body of work on NPR — as well as in Sports Illustrated, HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel and 20 books of his own — earned him not just listeners’ loyalty but his profession’s and the nation’s highest honors, too: an induction into the National Sports Media Association Hall of Fame in 1998, and a National Humanities Medal in 2013.

He was the first sportswriter to win that medal.

“A dedicated writer and storyteller, Mr. Deford has offered a consistent, compelling voice in print and on radio, reaching beyond scores and statistics to reveal the humanity woven into the games we love,” President Barack Obama said of Deford in a statement at the time.

All the while, Deford remained an evangelist for the games he loved — and for the crucial role they continue to play in our lives.

“This is part of your life — it’s the second tier,” he told Tom. “The first tier is eating, drinking and procreation. The second tier is religion, the spirit, music, art and the physical. Sports. It deserves to have as much attention paid to it, seriously.”

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Longtime Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford dies at 78 ~ SPORTS ILLUSTRATED

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Denis Johnson, Author Who Wrote Of The Dies At 67

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Updated at 10:47 a.m. ET

Denis Johnson, the author behind the seminal collection Jesus’ Son, has died at the age of 67. Jeff Seroy, a spokesperson for Johnson’s publisher, Farrar Straus and Giroux, confirmed that the National Book Award-winning novelist died Thursday but offered no further details.

“Denis was one of the great writers of his generation,” FSG’s president and publisher, Jonathan Galassi, said in a statement Friday. “He wrote prose with the imaginative concentration and empathy of the poet he was.”

“Brutally honest and painfully beautiful” — that’s how novelist Nathan Englander described Johnson’s work in 1992’s Jesus’ Son, a brief, unvarnished set of interwoven stories that focus on the desperate lives of drug addicts.

“He doesn’t ever romanticize these dark settings while leaving his narrator open to the fact that, despite it all, we may live in a heartbreakingly romantic world,” Englander wrote of Johnson in 2007, adding: “With dialogue that feels like you’re getting it verbatim and stripped-down prose, he writes simple, honest stories that have the bigness of great work.”

The same year that Englander praised him on NPR, Johnson went on to win the National Book Award for a significantly heftier work — at least in physical size. Tree of Smoke, a deep dive into covert operations during the Vietnam War, only added proof to the notion Johnson was “a fine stylist of the world of soulful disaster,” reviewer Alan Cheuse said at the time.

And Johnson, whose novella Train Dreams was also a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer, proved to be prolific both on the page and off: The author of about 20 books, including several collections of poetry, he pursued journalistic stories in Somalia and Liberia, among other places around the world.

In Liberia’s capital city in 1990, the dogs were doing well “because they feed on human corpses,” he wrote in “The Civil War in Hell,” a piece included in the nonfiction collection Seek. “The people are starving, but the dogs have put on weight.”

From book to book, the protean writer frequently defied readers’ expectations, slipping into new voices with each publication.

“I get bored quickly and try another style, another genre, another form,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2014, around the time he released his 10th novel, Laughing Monsters. “To me the writing is all one thing, or maybe I should say it’s all nothing. The truth is, I just write sentences.”


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NEW YORK — Denis Johnson, the prize-winning fiction writer, poet and playwright best known for his surreal and transcendent story collection “Jesus’ Son,” has died. He was 67.Johnson died Wednesday, according to Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. No other details were immediately available.“Denis was one of the great writers of his generation,” Galassi said in a statement Friday. “He wrote prose with the imaginative concentration and empathy of the poet he was.”

The son of a State Department liaison, Johnson was born in Munich, Germany, and lived around world before settling in Arizona and Idaho. He was a graduate of the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop and studied under Raymond Carver, whose raw accounts of addiction and recovery would be echoed in Johnson’s work. In a 1984 interview with The New York Times, he cited a wide range of influences.

“My ear for the diction and rhythms of poetry was trained by — in chronological order — Dr. Seuss, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman, the guitar solos of Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, and T.S. Eliot,” he said. “Other influences come and go, but those I admire the most and those I admired the earliest (I still admire them) have something to say in every line I write.”

Johnson was intensely admired by readers, critics and fellow writers. He won the National Book Award in 2007 for his Vietnam War novel “Tree of Smoke” and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for “Tree of Smoke,” and, in 2012, for his novella “Train Dreams.” His other works include the novel “Laughing Monsters” and “Angels,” the poetry collection “The Veil” and the play “Hellhound On My Trail.”

But many remember him for “Jesus’ Son,” which in hazed but undeniable detail chronicled the lives of various drug addicts adrift in America. The title was taken from the Velvet Underground song “Heroin” and the stories were sometimes likened to William Burroughs’ ”Naked Lunch.” Much of “Jesus’ Son” tells of crime, violence and substance abuse. But, as related by a narrator with an unprintable name (his initials were F.H.), the book also had an underlying sympathy and sense of possibility.

“Mr. Johnson’s is a universe governed by addiction, malevolence, faith and uncertainty,” James McManus wrote in the Times in 1992. “It is a place where attempts at salvation remain radically provisional, and where a teetering narrative architecture uncannily expresses both Christlike and pathological traits of mind.”

The book was adapted into a 1999 film of the same name, starring Billy Crudup. In 2006, the book was cited in a Times poll as among the important works of fiction of the previous 25 years.


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The New Yorker

Denis Johnson, who died on Wednesday, at the age of sixty-seven, wept easily, without embarrassment. “I just do this a lot,” he told his students at a writing seminar in St. Petersburg, Russia, in July, 2000, where we were both teaching. The tears on this occasion came in response to a student’s question about how he chooses titles for his books. He was alarmingly candid about the demons that pursued him. Even while we were in Russia, he was looking for an Alcoholics Anonymous chapter. He was always on edge, treading a path that was strewn with temptation, addiction, and violence. Perhaps because we were in St. Petersburg when I first got to know him, Denis reminded me of Dostoyevsky, a writer who was willing to plumb the darkest corners of his own psyche in order to honestly report on the nature of humanity.

He lived in the woods in northern Idaho, at the top of the stovepipe, near the Canadian border. He had guns and books and a Corvette and an amused wife, Cindy, whom he clung to like a mast in a stormy sea. I think he kept himself out of society because he was too appealing. He captivated people with his humor and brilliance, but adulation was another form of intoxication that he fiercely avoided.

 Denis said that he never read his reviews, although he was one of America’s most acclaimed writers. While we were in Russia, his novel “The Name of the World” got a front-page review in the Times Book Review, by Robert Stone. When Denis’s editor called to give him the news, he told me, “I had to read my Bible to calm down.” And that was a good review. He said he stopped reading reviews when his friends began calling him at six in the morning, warning him not to read an indifferent notice in the Times. Each of his friends quoted just enough of the review that Denis felt like he had read it anyway. “A bad review is like one of those worms in the Amazon that swims up your penis,” he told me. “If you read it, you can’t get it out, somehow.”

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A Hemingway Tell-All Bares His Tall Tales


A Biography
By Mary V. Dearborn
Illustrated. 738 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $35.

Ernest Hemingway began his career blessed lavishly by the gods. As a rugged young journalist, with a radiant, adoring wife, he dazzled the expatriate and artistic community of Paris in 1922 with his exuberance, gregariousness and exceptional good looks, including “the most beautiful row of teeth” the writer Max Eastman had ever seen. As Mary V. Dearborn notes in her authoritative biography, Hemingway “virtually commanded affection, admiration and attention.” His first books of character sketches and stories showed that he had literary talent as well, with an understated style stripped of euphemism, piety and cant. “In the golden city at a golden time,” Dearborn writes, “he would appear a golden young man.”

With the publication of “The Sun Also Rises” in 1926, Hemingway put a stamp on his spectacular literary career. Rapidly hailed as an important American writer, he became first a celebrity and then a legend, with his voracious pursuit of the adventurous roles and violent rituals of masculine contest. As he aged, however, that myth of heroic virility seemed increasingly untenable. He extolled male camaraderie, but was driven to betray and demolish his friends. He deserted his Paris wife, Hadley Richardson, and in three more marriages became more demanding of women’s adulation and service, more selfish and abusive. As his third wife, the writer and journalist Martha Gellhorn, observed, “A man must be a very great genius to make up for being such a loathsome human being.” And after World War II, Hemingway’s claim to literary genius seemed suspect as well. “How can a man in his senses,” John Dos Passos wondered when “Across the River and Into the Trees” came out in 1950, leave such garbage “on the page?” The international success of “The Old Man and the Sea” (1952) redeemed his literary reputation for a while, and secured the Nobel Prize. But his suicide on July 2, 1961, was so shockingly at odds with the hypermasculine persona he had cultivated and protected that it undermined critical evaluations of his aesthetic standing as well. Harold Bloom saw him the same way he saw Updike, as “a minor novelist with a major style.” His golden legend became the tragic saga of a man destroyed by his demons and hiding despair. Yet Hemingway’s outsize life and controversial achievement has continued to be a magnet to biographers, and Dearborn is the first woman to join their company. A perceptive and tough-minded biographer, who has written about other fabled icons of masculinity — Henry Miller, Norman Mailer — Dearborn has now tackled the big one. A feminist biography, then? Not exactly. Her chief asset as a female biographer, she insists, is her immunity to the hairy-chested, competitive Hemingway legend. Dearborn wants to opt out of the legend business and focus instead on “what formed this remarkably complex man and brilliant writer.”

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