CANTON – Jamie Ford, a Montana-based New York Times bestselling author, has never visited Stark County.
That will change Tuesday June 21 when he is scheduled to visit the Canton Palace Theater as part of a speaker series from the Stark Library. The event is in conjunction with an exhibit from the Canton Museum of Art.
Ford, who has Asian American roots, found near instant success with his debut historical novel, “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” in 2009. The novel follows the story of Henry Lee, who is Chinese American, Keiko Okabe, who is Japanese American, and the disruption and heartbreak caused by the forced evacuation and internment of Japanese Americans in the U.S. during World War II.
His novel spent two years on the New York Times bestselling list and earned him the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, according to his agency’s website. For Ford, his reaction to his newfound stardom was mixed.
“Honestly, it felt like dancing naked on Broadway,” he said with a laugh. “Like, part of you is really happy to be on Broadway and the other half is like, ‘Man, I should have worked out more at the gym.'”
What to expect at Jamie Ford’s appearance in Canton
Ford is the last speaker in the 2021-22 installment of the library’s Dr. Audrey Lavin Speaking of Books Author Series. He plans to talk about his first novel and the themes of emotion and love he uses in his writing. The event starts at 6:30 p.m., and those wishing to hear him speak and ask him questions can register online for free.
The author series is meant to give authors the opportunity to share their work and engage the community about topics that interest them, said Marianna DiGiacomo, community services director at the Stark Library. It’s popular, too; about 900 people have attended the previous two events in the series, she said.
Ford was chosen because his book helps people examine the experiences of Asian Americans in the U.S. during the war, which ties into the exhibit at the Canton Museum of Art.
That exhibit, titled “Witness to Wartime: The Painted Diary of Takuichi Fujii,” showcases paintings and drawings by Japanese American artist Takuichi Fujii that he created during and after his time in an internment camp. The work is accompanied by a series of three prominent Asian American speakers, one of whom is Ford.
“I felt like this was too powerful of an exhibit to just have it on display for people to see,” said Christy Davis, curator of exhibitions at the Canton Museum of Art. “It’s just an incredibly powerful exhibit, so I think the ability to speak with (Ford) is going to be really educational as well.”
Davis’ hope for the exhibit and Ford’s speaking event is for people to leave with new perspectives. With any exhibit, she said, the museum tries to create dialogues that wouldn’t otherwise be started.
Who is Jamie Ford?
Ford said his parents wanted him to be an artist or a writer when he was growing up in Seattle. He attended a poetry camp when he was young and received a degree in design in college, but it wasn’t until his 30s that he focused on becoming a novelist. Following the deaths of both of his parents, his writing gained the emotion it needed.
“I often say my writing career began when I wrote my parents’ obituaries,” Ford said. “I think if you want to be a writer, it helps to have your heart broken a few times. You have to be kicked around by life a little bit. I never want anyone to go out and lay down in traffic to collect scars, but all the things that I perceived as weaknesses in high school, to be overly sensitive, the kid that cries at sad movies, became my superpower as a writer.”
Ford followed his first novel with another national bestseller, “Songs of Willow Frost.” In 2017, he published “Love and Other Consolation Prizes,” which was named one of the Library Journal’s Best Historical Fiction Novels of 2017. In August, he’s publishing his fourth book, “The Many Daughters of Afong Moy.”
Heading into Tuesday’s event, Ford is looking forward to talking about his books and discussing different ideas with those on hand. As far as talking points goes, he has a few.
“One thing is to appreciate that people of color have different life experiences, we have different stories to tell,” he said. “I hope people have a greater understanding of the Japanese internment, and not just the years of the internment, but what led up to that. … And selfishly, I’d like them to know I have a new book coming out in August that I’m very excited about.”