Maine author Richard Ford has won the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction, the library announced Thursday.

Ford, 75, lives in Boothbay and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for “Independence Day.” The annual award was created by the library in 2008 as a lifetime achievement award for fiction writers.

It’s meant to honor a writer whose body of work is “distinguished not only for its mastery of the art but also for its originality of thought and imagination,” the announcement of the award read.

Speaking from Los Angeles where he’s on a lecture tour, Ford said Thursday he was happy to win the award because he feels it’s a chance for him to promote the importance of libraries. He said that libraries have long been sources of wonder and comfort for him, from the Jackson, Mississippi, library he frequented as a child to the ones he visits nowadays in Maine, including the Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library and the Skidompha Public Library in Damariscotta.

“I know it’s a grand library with a remarkable history, but it’s still a library, ” Ford said of the Library of Congress. “If you’re lucky enough to win an award, you have the opportunity to do something good with that notoriety. So I’d like to do something useful (with the award) and remind people about libraries. I am a library enthusiast.”

While the prize is only 11 years old, it carries the weight of the Library of Congress, the institution also responsible for appointing the U.S. Poet Laureate, said Joshua Bodwell, executive director of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance.


“So if one considers this award as something of the fiction twin to the poet laureateship then, yowza, this is a massive honor and an honor Richard’s rich work is deeply deserving of,” said Bodwell.

Unlike some other major literary prizes, it brings no cash. It’s also not been around nearly as long as some. Ford himself said he was not aware of the award before being nominated for it.

The Pulitzer Prize dates to 1917 and carries a $15,000 cash award while the PEN/Faulkner Award has been around since 1980 and also comes with a $15,000 award. The National Book Awards have included a lifetime achievement award since 1988, the Distinguished Contribution to American Letters medal.

But the list of recipients for the Library of Congress award is as prestigious as for any of the other major literary awards. That list includes Herman Wouk, John Grisham, Toni Morrison, Philip Roth and E.L. Doctorow.

Last year’s winner also has a Maine connection: E. Annie Proulx, 83, who spent time growing up in Portland and graduated from Deering High School in 1953. Proulx, Doctorow and Don DeLillo have all won both the Library of Congress award and the National Book Awards lifetime achievement award.

Besides “Independence Day,” for which he also won the PEN/Faulkner Award,  Ford’s books include “The Sportswriter,” “Let Me Be Frank with You” and “Canada.” He’s also published a memoir, “Between Them: Remembering My Parents.” Nominations for the award this year came from 60 authors and literary critics around the world.


In announcing the award Thursday morning, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden referred to Ford as “the Babe Ruth of novelists.”

“He is quintessentially American, profoundly human, meticulous in his craft, daring on the field, and he hits it consistently out of the park,” Hayden said in a statement. She also called Ford “one of the most eloquent writers of his generation.”

Ford will receive the award on Aug. 31 at the Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.

Ford said Thursday that he’s currently working on a book of short stories to come out next year called “Sorry for Your Trouble,” about people facing various life challenges. He’s also working on another novel featuring Frank Bascombe, the hero of “Independence Day” and “The Sportswriter.”

Besides using the award to help promote libraries, Ford said it will motivate him to be a better writer.

“To know that somebody likes what I’ve written makes me want to do better at what I do,” Ford said.

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