Kelli Jo Ford weaves together the stories of three generations of Cherokee women in Oklahoma in her critically acclaimed debut novel “Crooked Hallelujah.” Ford, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, has won numerous awards, including the Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize. She lives in Richmond, Va., with her husband, the poet Scott Weaver, and their daughter.
BOOKS: How has the pandemic affected your reading life?
FORD: It’s been a struggle. My husband and I are both working at home, and we have a 7-year-old daughter. There’s not been much solitude for reading, but I have read some. There is no rhyme or reason to what grabs me now. One pandemic read was Lily King’s “Writers & Lovers,” which I buzzed through. That felt like a great literary escape. On the other hand, I also did that with Megan Giddings’s “Lakewood,” which is about a young African-American woman who signs up for medical research studies to earn money.
BOOKS: What was your reading like pre-pandemic?
FORD: I love short stories. I turn to Louise Erdrich’s “Love Medicine” again and again. She’s a master of any form. To lose myself, I turn to novels. I yearn to be a better reader of nonfiction but I haven’t been. I have “Cherokees and Missionaries” by William G. McLoughlin. That is the kind of book I buy with the best intentions and don’t read.
BOOKS: Who are some of your current favorite short story writers?
FORD: Shruti Swamy, who has a new collection called “A House Is a Body,” and Asako Serizawa, who wrote “The Inheritors,” a collection of inter-connected stories that span about 500 years in a Japanese family.
BOOKS: When did you start reading short stories?
FORD: When I was an undergraduate, a professor introduced me to Breece D’J Pancake’s stories. They are all grounded in West Virginia and about rural people. I bet I read short stories in high school but I don’t remember that. What I remember are the books I grabbed from my grandmother’s nightstand, such as the “Flowers in the Attic” series by V.C. Andrews, which is about a family whose father dies in a car wreck and is taken in by their creepy grandparents. I was eating up whatever I found. I read a lot of Louis L’Amour westerns.
BOOKS: Who was the first Indigenous author you read?
FORD: I think it was Sherman Alexie’s “The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven.” I’d already seen the movie “Smoke Signals,” but didn’t know it was based on a book by an indigenous writer. There are so many more native writers now.
BOOKS: Who are the current native writers you wish were better known?
FORD: Brandon Hobson, who is a fellow citizen of the Cherokee nation. His third novel, “Where the Dead Sit Talking,” was a finalist for the National Book Award. There’s a new literary thriller set on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota called “Winter Counts,” by David Heska Wanbli Weiden, that is getting a lot of acclaim. Toni Jensen has a memoir out called “Carry” that is about growing up in gun culture. “Even as We Breathe,” by the Eastern Band Cherokee author Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, is at the top of my to-be-read pile.
BOOKS: What else is on your upcoming pile?
FORD: I just got “When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through,” a poetry anthology of native poets edited by Joy Harjo. I have “Earthlings,” by Sayaka Murata, and “Shuggie Bain” by Douglas Stuart.
BOOKS: Do you have a lot of books?
FORD: We have a good library of poetry because of my husband. I have novels and short stories. Now we are building a big library for our 7-year-old. We have become close to our local bookseller in Richmond because I’ve been calling him for recommendations. That has been a good thing during the pandemic. He’s turned us on to a few series, like the graphic novel “Lumberjanes,” by Noelle Stevenson. It’s been so cool to watch our daughter turn into a reader. Now she might not talk to us at breakfast because she’s reading her book.