In Memory of Elaine Ford

The 2018 Maine Playwrights Festival is dedicated to the memory of Maine novelist, playwright, and teacher Elaine Ford.

Elaine Ford photo 1
Elaine Ford                     (photo Michele Stapleton)

Elaine Ford (1938-2017) was the author of five published novels—The PlayhouseMissed ConnectionsIvory Bright, Monkey Bay, and Life Designs—and two story collections, The American Wife and This Time Might Be Different, the last published in March by Islandport Press.

Elaine was a realist writer whose fiction conveys a keen sense of place and community, whether it concerns Italian-Americans in Somerville, Massachusetts, or residents of small towns in Eastern Maine. “I have always been drawn to write about characters who are marginalized by class, ethnicity, appearance, or geographic location,” she said, and her compassion for her characters, as well as her eye for telling detail, were noted by reviewers. For her writing Elaine was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship and two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Elaine and her husband moved to Milbridge from the Boston area in 1985. From 1986 to 2005 she taught literature and creative writing at the University of Maine, retiring as a full professor. In the early 1990s she formed an off-campus writers’ group, which she hosted for many years in her Bangor apartment.

In Milbridge, Elaine joined the town’s Congregational church, where she sang in the choir and served two yearlong stints as church moderator. She gardened, and she served on a committee that helped create a public library in Milbridge. She made friends in the community. She observed. In time Washington County became a setting for her fiction. In addition to two novels set wholly or partly in Maine, Elaine wrote at least 20 short stories while living Down East. This Time Might Be Different is comprised entirely of Maine-set stories.

After retirement from teaching and relocation to Harpswell, Elaine devoted herself to family history, researching in particular Ford ancestors in the 19th-century South. Genealogical discoveries eventually led her to attempt a different genre of writing: historical fiction. At her death she left a novel manuscript based on the lives of her great-great-grandparents.

“Elwood’s Last Job” at the 2017 Maine Playwrights Festival (photo Shannon Wade)

Elaine’s curiosity and flexibility as a writer were further demonstrated in 2015, when, at age 76, she took up playwriting. Adapting some of her own short stories into one-act plays, in 2016 she had her first theatrical effort, “Original Brasses, Fine Patina,” produced in Brooklyn, New York, and given a staged reading in Portland. Her second play, “Elwood’s Last Job,” was produced in the Maine Playwrights Festival’s 2017 season.

Elaine wished to tell gripping stories about characters that matter to a reader. Many of her protagonists appear ordinary but have complex inner lives. Their difficult choices she makes palpable, often denying the characters facile happy endings because, she once wrote, “Life doesn’t work that way. People are still sorting out their mistakes and misalliances the day they drop. For me, the whole point of writing is to tell it like it is, not like I wish it were.”

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The posthumously-published collection of Elaine Ford’s short stories, This Time Might Be Different, which contains the stories from which she adpated her two Maine Playwrights Festival scripts – Original Brasses Fine Patina and Elwood’s Last Job – is available now from Islandport Press. More information on the book can be found on the Islandport Press website.