- Associated Press - Thursday, January 6, 2011

JACKSON, MISS. (AP) - Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Richard Ford has a theory about why such good literature comes from his native Mississippi, where he’s returning to teach graduate writing classes this fall.

“I think the state, in the hands and eyes of its writers, has a lot that needs to be explained. Writers are imaginative explainers. There’s a lot of received wisdom, history, a lot of drama in the fabric that is Mississippi that could be seen not to make a whole lot of sense,” he said Wednesday.

“For instance when I was born in Jackson, black Americans and white Americans were not allowed to go to school together. That kind of racial absurdity Faulkner dealt with directly and Eudora Welty did in her way.”

The University of Mississippi announced this week that Ford will serve as senior fiction writer at the school. He’ll teach a graduate fiction seminar in fall 2011 and a graduate class on form, craft and influence during the spring 2012 semester.

“I’m hoping to teach them that what they’re doing is important and it’s worth their life,” Ford said in an interview. “I’m there to be their colleague and encourage them and try to make them understand that what they’re doing everyday is what writers who become great writers do.”

The Jackson native won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for his novel, “Independence Day.” The book also won the PEN/Faulkner Award.

Ford also is currently working on his 10th novel. But he almost took another career path.

“I wanted to be a journalist really bad, but nobody would give me a job. The only reason I’m a novelist is that nobody would give me a job,” said the 66-year-old writer who hasn’t lived in the state since the 1990s.

He’s going to a college town that’s well-known for its association with William Faulkner, who made his home in the north Mississippi city. The region inspired many of Faulkner’s stories.

Beth Ann Fennelly, a poet and associate professor of English at the university, was chairwoman of the search committee for the faculty position Ford will fill. Fennelly said the job attracted a diverse and strong pool of applicants.

“But as soon as we found out that Richard Ford could potentially be interested in the position, we knew which way we hoped the search would lead,” Fennelly said in a statement.

Ford’s wife, Kristina, also will join the university’s faculty as a visiting professor of public policy leadership. Kristina Ford is chief of staff for community development for the city of New Orleans.

Richard Ford said his last full-time teaching job was in 1977 at Williams College in Massachusetts.

“I left after one year,” Ford said. “Nothing against Williams College. It was just the wrong time in my life.”

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