David Adams Richards, novelist, short-story writer, memoirist (b Newcastle, NB 17 October 1950). Author of novels, short stories, memoirs, essays, poetry and plays, David Adams Richards explores in his fictionalized Miramichi conflicts between families with long community histories, long-term consequences of errors in judgment, the complexity of making moral choices, and humanity's unfortunate willingness to remember faults sooner than virtues. Often considered a "regional" writer, Richards resists that label, calling his passionate and generous work "a great defence of the people I grew up with."
Richards's first publications were poems, collected in the chapbook Small Heroics (1972) and the privately printed One Step Inside (1972). His first novel, The Coming of Winter (1974), introduces his Miramichi "homeground." The sparse naturalism of the prose and plot were critically praised but often misunderstood - a common response to Richards's work. Blood Ties (1976) focuses on the MacDurmot family, detailing approximately two years of their challenging lives during the late 1960s.
Dancers at Night (1978), a collection of short stories, appeared while Richards was at work on his third novel, Lives of Short Duration (1981). This novel is Richards's richest and most technically complex, refracting aspects of Miramichi history from about 1825 to 1980 through at least five generations of the Terri family. Their relationships are rarely smooth and the characters waver between personal heights and depths - financial and emotional - at a sometimes staggering pace.
Road to the Stilt House (1985) is Richards's shortest and perhaps most pessimistic work. The poverty, violence and bleakness are barely offset by subtle evocation of the human ability to rise above even the worst circumstances through spontaneous generosity. A trilogy of novels followed: Nights Below Station Street (1988 GOVERNOR GENERAL'S AWARD), Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace (1990) and For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down (1993). This trilogy, connected primarily through setting and recurring characters, focuses on the many ways people evaluate and judge each other. Richards's protagonists struggle against deterministic pessimism in a community with a long memory for old mistakes. Characters such as Joe Walsh, Ivan Basterache, and Jerry Bines try to escape from alcohol and drug abuse, criminal pasts, and society's frequent willingness to think the worst of people. Though complete escape is usually impossible, moments of redemption are achieved.
Richards's third decade features increasingly complex explorations of conscience, morality, integrity and consequences. His invented Miramichi world is now clearly a unified fictional ground (in the manner of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County and Hardy's Wessex), shown especially by the reappearance in recent novels of some characters from the earliest books. Hope in the Desperate Hour (1996) demonstrates how any presumption to superiority - intellectual, moral, or otherwise - on the part of those with higher formal education is, at best, misguided, at worst, dangerous. The Bay of Love and Sorrows (1998) explores love, betrayal, murder, conscience and redemption. Mercy Among the Children (2000 GILLER PRIZE) tells the story of Sidney Henderson's unshakable certainty in his own integrity, despite jealous rejection and hostility from his community, as recalled by his long-suffering son, Lyle. River of the Brokenhearted (2003) spans the 20th century and explores aspects of Richards's own family history, the popularity of cinema, and the occasionally extreme unforeseeable consequences of decisions and actions thought at first to be final. Initial alliances and antagonisms formed in the community by protagonist Janie King in the early decades of the century continue to affect the social standing of her grandchildren long after her death.
Richards's other works include the original screenplay Small Gifts (1994), screen adaptations of For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down (1996) and Nights Below Station Street (1997), a collection of essays called A Lad from Brantford (1994), and two memoirs, Hockey Dreams (1996) and Lines on the Water (1998 Governor General's Award).
Readers have sometimes missed moments of hope and transcendence in Richards' fiction, labelling his work fatalistic. This misunderstanding grows partly from the intensity with which Richards portrays difficulty, and partly from readers not recognizing how much Richards values human generosity and spontaneity. David Adams Richards challenges readers to confront their own perceptions and prejudices. His fiction is often uncomfortable, but never unrewarding.