HippoCamp 2016 Session Recap: Ashley C. Ford Opening Keynote

by Emilie Haertsch

Writer Ashley C. Ford took the podium on Friday night in a red sweatshirt, declaring, “If Mark Zuckerberg can wear a hoodie so can I,” thus setting the tone for her rock-star creative nonfiction speech. She spoke about her lifelong obsession with superheroes and its influence on her writing career.

As a young, queer black woman Ford instinctively knew that she would need super powers to survive in this world, and she developed a corresponding toughness that has enabled her to take a great deal as an adult. But, she acknowledges, the one thing she could never take was seeing others bullied. She wanted to be the one who saved them, and to be significant in her unique ability to do so – to be a real life superhero.

Creative nonfiction writers, however, know there are no superheroes, only humans – but they are pretty spectacular in their own right. Humans have incredible resilience. As Ford pointed out, “Amazing is not uncommon. Amazing is everywhere.” Creative nonfiction writers capture the incredible stories all around us – not always uplifting stories, sometimes messy stories, but transfixing stories about what it is to be human and where we are heading as a people. Who needs superheroes when you have flawed people doing impressive deeds every day? Ford confided that the stories she wrote about un-heroic times were the stories with which readers most connected. In conveying human fallibility she helped readers to feel less alone and more capable of telling their own stories. In this way, she got to be a voice for the underdog, just like she always wanted.

Ford may not believe herself to be a superhero, but to this crowd of writers, on this night, she was. Add us to the list of underdogs – the resilient, struggling creators inspired to keep refining our craft, continue telling true stories – buoyed by the encouragement of this incredible writer and advocate.