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Richards, David Adams 1950-

Richards, David Adams 1950-


PERSONAL:

Born October 17, 1950, in Newcastle, New Brunswick, Canada; son of William Angus and Margaret Richards; married Margaret "Peggy" McIntyre (a secretary), November 19, 1971; children: John Thomas, Anton. Education: Attended St. Thomas University.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Doubleday, One Toronto St., Ste. 300, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5C 2V6. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter, and poet. Former editor of Urchins Magazine. Served as writer-in-residence at Hollins University, Roanoke, VA, and at universities in New Brunswick, Ottawa, and Alberta, Canada.

MEMBER:

Writers Union of Canada.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Norma Epstein First Prize for Undergraduate Creative Writing, 1974, for The Coming of Winter; named one of ten best Canadian writers, Canadian Book Information Center, 1986-87; silver medal, Atlantic chapter of the Royal Society of the Arts, 1986-87; Governor General's Award for fiction, 1988, for Nights below Station Street; Canadian Authors' Association Award, 1991, for Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace; Canada-Australia Literary Prize, 1992; Alden-Nowlan Award, 1993, for excellence in English-language literary art; Best Scriptwriter, New York International Film Festival, 1996, for Small Gifts; Governor General's Literary Award, 1998, for Lines on the Water: A Fisherman's Life on the Miramichi; Giller Award (corecipient), 2000, and Canadian Bookseller's Association author of the year and fiction book of the year, 2001, both for Mercy among the Children; Gemini Award, for screen adaptations of Small Gifts and for For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down; two Writers Guild awards. Recipient of two honorary degrees.

WRITINGS:


NOVELS


The Coming of Winter, Oberon Press (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1974.

Blood Ties, Oberon Press (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1976.

Lives of Short Duration, Oberon Press (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1981.

Road to the Stilt House, Oberon Press (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1985.

Nights below Station Street (first novel in a trilogy), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1987.

Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace (second novel in a trilogy), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1991.

For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down (third novel in a trilogy), McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1993.

Hope in the Desperate Hour, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.

The Bay of Love and Sorrows, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998.

Mercy among the Children, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.

The River of the Brokenhearted, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003, Arcade (New York, NY), 2004.

The Bay of Love and Sorrows, Arcade (New York, NY), 2003.

The Friends of Meager Fortune, MacAdam/Cage (San Francisco, CA), 2006.

OTHER


Small Heroics (poems), New Brunswick Chapbooks (Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada), 1973.

Dancers at Night (short stories), Oberon Press (Ontario, Canada), 1978.

A Lad from Brantford and Other Essays (essays), Broken Jaw Press (Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada), 1995.

Hockey Dreams, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998.

Lines on the Water: A Fisherman's Life on the Miramichi, Doubleday Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1998.

Author of a play The Dungarvon Whooper; author of screen adaptations of Nights below Station Street, Small Gifts, The Bay of Love and Sorrows, and For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down.

SIDELIGHTS:

"David Adams Richards of New Brunswick is one of the most promising writers to emerge from the maritime provinces in the 1970s," according to James Doyle in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Richards's fiction focuses on the maritime region of Canada and the communities along the Miramichi River. Most critics have discussed the importance of this location in Richards's work, and although Richards himself shuns the regionalist label, many have compared him to writers such as William Faulkner who use their native land to explore the human condition. Doyle pointed out that Richards's "images recall Faulkner, Dostoyevski, perhaps even Dante—not in any simple imitative sense, but in the sense that Richards's writing reaches an intensity of vision that transcends social or national fact and reaches toward universal truth." Gerald Hannon, writing for Toronto Life, observed: "Though his novels may be anchored along the Miramichi, their moral gaze seems wide enough to encompass our whole, clamouring world." As Jeffrey Canton wrote in the Quill and Quire: "The richness and resonance of Richards's voice is unique in Canadian fiction."

Richards began his writing career by publishing short stories in Canadian magazines and then a volume of poetry, Small Heroics. His poetry in particular foreshadows many images that he would develop further in his novels, such as barren fields, dark forests, run-down houses, and desolate landscapes. Such scenes provide a backdrop to all of Richards's characters, many of whom are essentially despairing, lonely, and inarticulate. Because of the universality of these and other themes, and despite his focus on New Brunswick and use of recurring characters, Richards argues with critics who believe his work to be limited to regional relevance.

Richards's first four publications all share the similarity of presenting a community of characters with intersecting lives. The novels The Coming of Winter and Blood Ties focus on the lives of working-class teenagers. The short-story collection Dancers at Night presents a variety of subjects and narrative perspectives. In his third novel, the epic Lives of Short Duration, Richards shifts his attention to the entrepreneurs and would-be social leaders of the Miramichi region. The story explores the fortunes of one family over the course of one hundred years, moving backward and forward in time and enriched by the inclusion of elements of regional tradition and folklore. With Lives of Short Duration Richards also continues his explorations of the changes the region has undergone, particularly in the relationship between whites and Native Americans and the transition from pioneering society to poor backwoods.

Road to the Stilt House describes a poverty-stricken family living, and dying, in violence and misery. Richards portrays a fateful year in the lives of the family who live in the house on stilts, a year in which their very existence is destroyed through illness and the powerlessness that comes with poverty. With Nights below Station Street Richards began a trilogy that was later completed by Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace and For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down. Nights below Station Street focuses on the Walsh family: Joe, an alcoholic who has recently stopped drinking, his wife, and their two children, one of whom—Adele—is not Joe's biological daughter. Though the book has as its center Joe's efforts to stay sober and atone for the harm he has inflicted on his family, his relationship with Adele also comes to the forefront. Adele, meanwhile, looks to an older university graduate for guidance. Readers may well sense this divided loyalty, Douglas Glover pointed out in Books in Canada, because "the truth of Adele's relationship with Joe is that they love each other deeply." As with all of Richards's work, the writing itself—its brevity, its accuracy of dialogue—has been applauded. Sheldon Currie of the Antigonish Review wrote of Nights below Station Street: "The writing is clear, efficient, full of comical and sad surprises as well as beautiful characters who affirm the gorgeous complexity and fun of human relationships and defy the inexplicable and the violent."

Although Richards returns to some of the characters in Nights below Station Street in the second volume of the trilogy, Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace, Canton maintained that this book about the breakup of a young married couple "is in every way a novel that can stand on its own." Ivan and Cindi, who is pregnant, separate after a fight over money, are stereotypically interpreted as abuser and victim by local gossips, and then reunite. In the process, Ivan's father thwarts his escape to a new, and presumably happier, life in Ontario. On a technical level, Canton enthusiastically felt that "Richards brilliantly delineates characters and with great subtlety of imagination peoples Evening Snow." Canton also saw this universal appeal, finding that "Evening Snow is a novel that celebrates the resilience of the human spirit."

For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down reintroduces Jerry Bines, who first appeared in Road to the Stilt House. Jerry has returned to the Miramichi River region after having been acquitted on a murder charge, bringing with him the potential for violence. Lynne Van Luven wrote in Books in Canada of the novel and its turn of events: "It does not tell a savoury story … . It is a novel that demands reading, but it is not a novel anyone will be able to read in moral comfort." For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down differs from the previous two novels in the trilogy in that Richards uses multiple voices to tell his story, which, according to Klay Dyer in Canadian Forum, "allows him to interweave masterfully Bines' story with those of the people around him." This also prevents the reader from ever knowing the truth about Bines. The novel is similar to the previous two, Dyer observed, in that it also "resonates with an emotional fullness that stands as a testament to both Richards's skill as a writer and, perhaps more importantly, his vision as a human being."

Richards followed up For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down with a book of essays, A Lad from Brantford and Other Essays, and then the novel Hope in the Desperate Hour. In 1998, two books by Richards focusing on his own life and the region where he grew up were published. Hockey Dreams recounts Richards's childhood experiences with ice hockey and its role in Canadian thought and culture. Lines on the Water: A Fisherman's Life on the Miramichi garnered Richards another Governor General's Literary Award, this time for his nonfiction essays describing the Miramichi region and the area's devotion to fly fishing. In his tales of poachers, guides, and city slickers, Richards explores people's relationships with nature as well as the relationships of friends and family. Writing in Maclean's, D'Arcy Jenish commended the book for its "spare but elegant prose," noting that Richards "brings his beloved waters to life."

Richards's novel The Bay of Love and Sorrows was also published in 1998. Focusing on the death of a young woman in a New Brunswick hamlet, Richards probes into the lives of people from a wide social spectrum who become implicated in the murder. Michael Skid, the privileged son of a judge in a small 1970s Nova Scotia town, has just returned to his Oyster River hometown after a post-graduate journey through India. There he meets Kerrie Smith, the girlfriend of Michael's buddy Tom Donnerel. Michael and Kerrie fall into a sterile and manipulative relationship as he feels an increased attraction for Madonna Brassaurd, who was once a very lovely girl but is now worn and fractured by the ravages of time, abuse, and drugs. Madonna and her thuglike brother, Silver, are drug dealers who attract the attention of vile ex-con Everette Hutch. Drawn in by Hutch, Michael soon finds himself manipulated into doing Hutch's bidding and helping him with drug deals. After Michael is forced to dump a shipment of drugs because of a Coast Guard inspection, his attempt to recoup the drug money leads to murder and scapgoating of the innocent Tom. However, unfolding events also bring about unexpected redemption in the midst of the turmoil. "Richards's tight plotting keeps the labyrinthine narrative riveting," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. "For all of the novel's despair, its multilayered plot, complex characters, and clean, spare prose will spellbind readers," remarked Barbara Love in a Library Journal review. Describing the author's style, Maclean's reviewer John Bemrose noted that "Richards uses short paragraphs and blunt, almost awkward style that has the gnarled, surprising beauty of a good walking stick."

With the publication of Mercy among the Children in 2000, Richards continues his probing of good, evil, and power. Although he had moved from the Miramichi region to the city of Toronto, his focus remains on characters in the rural Miramichi valley as a microcosm of the world at large. In Mercy among the Children, twelve-year-old Sydney Henderson makes a vow of nonviolence after believing he has killed a friend. Many years later, Sydney must struggle to keep that promise as he is falsely accused of theft and murder and is wrongly hounded by the government for back taxes. As Sydney remains steadfast to his promise to remain nonviolent, his son Lyle takes matters into his own hands, resulting in both violence and tragedy. "I think this book is really a culmination of my last seven books," the author told Linda Richards in an interview for January Magazine. "My determination to study the courses of violence and the courses of, well—for the lack of a better word—of pacifism within my characters and decide over the course of the last four, five, or six novels, what paths are best to take."

For Mercy among the Children, Richards shared Canada's 2000 Giller Prize with novelist and poet Michael Ondaatje. Although some reviewers noted that the book had flaws, such as being overly despairing and too sentimental in the treatment of some characters, it received wide acclaim as a superior achievement. "Readers with sufficient fortitude for unrelenting misery and despair will find rewards in a harrowing and powerful novel," wrote Barbara Love in Library Journal. Likewise, a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that although "some readers may recoil from the book's frank depiction of pervasive poverty, Richards shows how powerfully the novel can operate as a mode of moral exploration—a fact sometimes forgotten in the age of postmodern irony." Calling Mercy among the Children "a masterpiece," Bemrose praised Richards for not following the vein of "ironic nihilism" as many writers seem to do. "It's a wonderful thing," wrote Bemrose, "to see a novelist swimming successfully against the tides of literary fashion."

The River of the Broken Hearted chronicles four generations of family history and feuds between two richly portrayed New Brunswick families. Protagonist Wendell King sets out to discover the truth behind the scandalous stories he has consistently heard about his father, Miles King, and his grandmother, Janie King (a character based in part on Richards's own grandmother). The story he uncovers is far different than the lurid tales he has heard, tainted by years of gossip and lies. In the early part of the twentieth century, Janie McLeary marries movie theater owner George King. Scandalous enough that Irish Catholic Janie has married English Protestant George, but King is also many years her senior and in poor health. The couple has two children, Miles and Georgina, but soon George's health fails and he dies, leaving his wife with two small children to raise. To the community's surprise, she scandalously insists on keeping the movie theater intact and running, despite intense rivalry and bitter opposition from another theater-owning family in the area. Janie's intense drive to succeed, however, places a heavy burden on her young family, with repercussions felt through the ensuing decades into Miles's life and finally into Wendell's, who attempts to exorcise the past via his search for the truth behind his family's troubled ancestry. The story "seethes with the greed, revenge, and guilt that tie two feuding families," observed Deborah Donovan in Booklist. Love, writing again in the Library Journal, concluded that "this rich, intergenerational saga rewards the reader with memorable characters and a story as strong as it is sorrowful."

Richards told January Magazine interviewer Richards: "I'll always be doing some writing, whether it's essays, poetry, commentary—well not commentary—but maybe scriptwriting." For fans of Richards, this is good news. As Aida Edemariam commented in the Times Literary Supplement in a review of Mercy among the Children: "Reading Richards is always like witnessing a pile-up on a foggy highway. You feel that describing the wreckage (and attendant small heroics) is what makes him tick. Everyone is hurt, and the best they can hope for is to act with dignity." In detailing these acts of dignity, Edemariam wrote, "Richards's prose is assured, fast-moving and unobtrusively poetic."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:


BOOKS


Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 59, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 53: Canadian Writers since 1960, First Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1986.

PERIODICALS


Antigonish Review, spring, 1988, Sheldon Currie, review of Nights below Station Street, p. 65.

Booklist, August, 2001, Linda Zeilstra, review of Mercy among the Children, p. 2091; May 15, 2004, Deborah Donovan, review of River of the Brokenhearted, p. 1599.

Books in Canada, May, 1988, Douglas Glover, review of Nights below Station Street, p. 32; September, 1993, Lynne Van Luven, review of For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down, pp. 39-40; April, 1995, review of A Lad from Brantford and Other Essays, p. 45; summer, 1996, review of Hope in the Desperate Hour, p. 2.

Canadian Forum, June-July, 1986, Mark Frutkin, review of Road to the Stilt House, p. 43; December, 1993, Klay Dyer, review of For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down, p. 37; December, 1998, Ken Sparling, review of The Bay of Love and Sorrows, p. 50.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), July 3, 1999, review of Lines on the Water: A Fisherman's Life on the Miramichi, p. D15.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2001, review of Mercy among the Children, p. 1240; February 15, 2003, review of The Bay of Love and Sorrows, p. 264.

Library Journal, October 15, 2001, Barbara Love, review of Mercy among the Children, p. 110; March 15, 2003, Barbara Love, review of The Bay of Love and Sorrow, p. 116; May 1, 2004, Barbara Love, review of The River of the Brokenhearted, p. 141.

Maclean's, December 25, 1989, D'Arcy Jenish and Brian Willer, "Exploring the Dignity in Downtrodden Lives: David Adams Richards," p. 34; June 22, 1998, D'Arcy Jenish, "Casting the Spell of Adventure," p. 52; October 26, 1998, John Bemrose, "Lives of the Sinners: A Veteran Novelist Continues to Explore a Richly Layered Society," p. 88; December 7, 1998, John Bemrose, "Telling Tales in Canada: The Season's Best Ranges from Punches to Pachyderms," p. 69; September 25, 2000, John Bemrose, "A Thicket of Backwoods Evil: David Adams Richards Soars in His New Novel," p. 71.

Publishers Weekly, September 10, 2001, review of Mercy among the Children, p. 57; February 24, 2003, review of The Bay of Love and Sorrows, p. 51; May 10, 2004, review of River of the Brokenhearted, p. 35.

Quill and Quire, November, 1990, review of Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace, p. 19; January, 1995, review of A Lad from Brantford and Other Essays, p. 30; February, 1998, review of Lines on the Water, p. 38; November, 1998, review of The Bay of Love and Sorrows, p. 41.

Times Literary Supplement, July 27, 2001, Aida Edemariam, "Collisions in the Fog," p. 20.

Toronto Life, September, 2003, Gerald Hannon, "Moral Victory," profile of David Adams Richards, p. 12.

ONLINE


David Adams Richards Home Page,http://www.davidadamsrichards.com (May 11, 2006).

January Magazine,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (May 8, 2006), Linda Richards, "January Interview: David Adams Richards."

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