River of the Brokenhearted
David Adams Richards (Author)
June 15, 2004
5.0 X 1.15 X 8.0 inches | 0.9 pounds
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About the Author
Born in 1950 in Newcastle, New Brunswick, the third of six children, David Adams Richards found his calling at the age of fourteen after reading Oliver Twist. He had never read a novel before, and was first disappointed that there were no pictures. Then he picked up the Dickens novel almost by accident one day, and after reading it was determined to become a novelist. He studied literature at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, attended an informal weekly writing workshop, received encouragement from established writers and published a book of poetry. When the first five chapters of the novel he was working on, The Coming of Winter, won the Norma Epstein Prize for Creative Writing in 1973, he left university to write full-time; the book was published the following year, and translated into Russian. He then pursued a life of writing with extraordinary resolve, in spite of the small rewards early on. Leaving university without a degree meant giving up the possibility of an academic career. Instead, he took ticket stubs at his father's theatre in Newcastle; "I came from a family that did all right, but after I got out on my own, from age 19 to 27, I had almost no money. I cut my own wood for the winter with an axe one year." For his first five novels, he didn't have a reading outside his province of New Brunswick. However, in 1985 his fifth work of fiction, Road to the Stilt House, was nominated for the Governor General's Award, and soon he was recognised as one of the ten best Canadian writers under 45. In 1988 he won the Governor General's Award for Nights Below Station Street, and was named by Maclean's magazine as a Canadian who made a difference; he began to win various other literary awards. Ten years later he won a second Governor General's Award for his memoir Lines on the Water, becoming one of only three writers to win for both fiction and non-fiction (along with Mordecai Richler and Hugh MacLennan). Still, it was not until his 2000 novel Mercy Among the Children that he made a real breakthrough internationally; the novel received effusive praise and was a national bestseller for months. The epic story of a man's pact with God and its far-reaching impact on his family's destiny, it was nominated for the Governor General's Award and the Trillium Award, and won the prestigious Giller Prize. In the U.S., it was given the Editors' Choice award by The Atlantic Monthly. The Washington Post called it "a contemporary masterpiece that, in the tradition of Tolstoy, Camus and Melville, reminds us that redemption is to be found in the suffering of innocents." Like his literary heroes Thomas Hardy and Emily Bronte, Richards evokes universal human struggles through the events of a small, rural place, where one person's actions impact inevitably on others in a web of interconnectedness. The TLS, comparing Richards to Alice Munro, Margaret Laurence and Alistair MacLeod, says, "Like them, Richards is a regional writer, but not in a limiting sense; circumscription of place concentrates and clarifies the universal issues of motive and moral responsibility." Each of his sixteen books of poetry, essays and fiction is set in rural communities of New Brunswick's Miramichi Valley. After years of travelling, Richards found he could write about the region regardless of where he lived; he says, "I carry what I do inside." He portrays real rural men and women, brilliant and strong characters in spite of their deprived lives, sometimes based on people he grew up with. Wayne Johnston, hearing Richards read in 1983, was struck by the author's unqualified love for all his characters. Richards' meditation on fishing, Lines on the Water, and his earlier book Hockey Dreams, reflect enduring childhood passions; his interests beyond literature and history are hockey, boxing, hunting, and fly-fishing on the Miramichi River. His love for the place and its people permeates his work, while his belief in the existence of good and evil and human choice between them, his ability to catch what Maclean's magazine called "the beauty and loneliness of the search for moral truth," gives it an uplifting quality. He admits there are hard lessons in his books, but hopes there is joyousness too. "It's more optimistic than not."