Elaine_Ford
Photo, Michele Stapleton

I grew up in a small town in New Jersey, haunted the library, and became co-editor of the literary magazine in high school: the typical profile of a young person who wants to be a writer. As an undergraduate at Radcliffe College I had my first exposure to professional criticism, from my English C professor, John Hawkes. Although a very different sort of writer, he taught me the values of significant detail and economy of language. In that early stage of my life among my literary influences were Thomas Hardy, Bernard Malamud, and T.S. Eliot.

While still an undergraduate I met and married—too young, of course—a Harvard undergraduate. In 1959 we and our three-month-old son embarked on what turned out to be a year-long and in some ways foolhardy adventure: travelling through Western Europe, living in Greece for a few months, and then on to Egypt, India, the Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe in a Volkswagen Camping Bus. Within a few years of our return to the U.S. I completed my college education at Harvard. But I was also engaged in the business of baby-making. We did a great deal of moving from one city and country to another as my husband pursued several different careers. For a long time, with five young children, I had no time or creative energy left for writing.

In 1972 my mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and I had to come to terms with the fact that we’re all mortal. If I was going to be a writer I’d better get cracking, children or no. We were living in North Cambridge at the time, a working-class neighborhood, and that’s where I began to write what would become my first novel, The Playhouse.

But off we went again in 1973, this time to Northern Ireland. Deprived of geographical context for my infant novel, I found that my writing was stymied. It was at the height of the Troubles. Bombs were going off all over Belfast, rain fell constantly, and my marriage began to disintegrate. Long story short: by 1979 I was back in the U.S., divorced, and working as a reference librarian at Somerville Public Library. In the meantime I’d reconnected with a longtime friend, Arthur Boatin, who had always shared my literary interests and supported my writing. By dint of heroic effort he sold, over the transom, that now-completed first novel, which was published in 1980. My second novel followed three years later.

In 1985 Arthur and I moved to Maine, where we’ve lived ever since. I was lucky enough to land a tenure-track job at the University of Maine in Orono, where I taught creative writing and literature for nineteen years. So far, I’ve published five novels and a collection of short stories. Along the way I’ve received a number of awards, among them two National Endowment for the Arts grants, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, the Omaha Prize for Fiction in 2002, and the Michigan Literary Fiction Award in 2007. In 2010 Harvard University, in a ceremony in Memorial Hall, awarded me an honorary Phi Beta Kappa membership “in recognition of high attainments in liberal scholarship.”

I have always been drawn to write about characters who are marginalized by class, ethnicity, physical appearance, or geographical location and about those afflicted by bad luck or devotion to causes doomed to failure. Increasingly I’m interested in how profoundly the past is bound up in the present.

I’m now seventy-five years old. I’m close to my children, and I have ten dear grandchildren. Among my many pleasures are designing gardens and grubbing in them, genealogical research, my two cats, and collecting antique Chinese pewter teapots and Japanese woodblock prints from the mid-19th century. And I’m a-writin’.