Honorary Degree Citation
Richard Ford. Storyteller. Chronicler. In six novels and three collections of short fiction, you have created a body of work that performs an “archaeology of the ordinary” while discovering the extraordinary in your characters’ lives. Your Frank Bascombe, a singular character in American fiction and the voice at the center of three of your novels, has taken his place alongside Willy Loman and Rabbit Angstrom as a quixotic and involuntary explorer of the American experience. Bascombe is a person finding his way in modern America, an ordinary man, with no particular virtues or strengths, yet virtuous nonetheless. He is honest in an almost Socratic way, as when in The Sportswriter he muses, “I didn’t know with certainty what to say about the large world, and didn’t care to risk speculating.” As one critic said, you are “writing about modern uncommitted man, lashing himself to the railing of mundane daily life, trying to get through the storm.” In 1996 you were the first writer to receive both the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award in the same year, for your novel Independence Day, which was described as an “extraordinary epic … nothing less than the story of the twentieth century itself.” John Banville wrote that you have “been forging a new way of writing fiction about, and out of, American life that is as revolutionary as Proust’s adventures in time travel.” Recently you edited a collection of short fiction concerning the world of work, a subject at the heart of your fiction. It is a profound topic for an American writer at a time of tragedy among American workers, and with it you declare the simple yet enduring value of human striving.
By the authority of the Board of Trustees of Colby College, I confer upon you, Richard Ford, the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa. The hood with which you have been invested and this diploma which I place in your hand are visible symbols of your membership in this society of scholars, to all the rights and privileges of which I declare you entitled.
Conferred May 22, 2011
Richard Ford is a novelist and short-story writer. His 1995 novel, Independence Day, the second in a trilogy including The Sportswriter and The Lay of the Land, won both the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Ford also is the recipient of the PEN/Malamud Award for short fiction. A native of Jackson, Miss., he earned his B.A. from Michigan State University and his M.F.A. from the University of California, Irvine. He has taught literature at Trinity College Dublin and Princeton University. Ford is the author of six novels, three books of short stories, and many essays, and he is the editor of several story collections. He lives in East Boothbay, Maine.