A Place To Stay

Victoria Ford, a child of the Memphis political dynasty, survived her parents’ disgrace to stand on a stage in Carnegie Hall and accept a national writing award

Feature profile for Chapter 16 (an online journal about books and writers, sponsored by Humanities Tennessee)

June 29, 2011

“You may not understand this now, but she isn’t coming back. Not tonight. Not tomorrow. Day after that. And no, she hasn’t left anything behind—a sticky note on the refrigerator door or a quick message for the answering machine, her voice a distant echo calling your name and mine. Nothing.”

So begins the award-winning essay “To a Restless Little Brother Calling for Mama in His Sleep,” one of the five essays that last month helped Victoria Ford, eighteen, win a national Scholastic Art and Writing Award—and a $10,000 college scholarship. Past winners of the prestigious award include Sylvia Plath, Joyce Carol Oates, and Truman Capote. For Ford, the awards ceremony, held May 31 in New York City’s Carnegie Hall, was a moment to remember, one that surely marks the beginning of a life of creativity and success.

Victoria’s last name might not be so well known as the literary giants who took home the Scholastic prize years ago, but it already carries a kind of notoriety in her hometown of Memphis. Harold Ford Sr., the first African-American Tennessean elected to Congress since Reconstruction, was her uncle. Harold Ford Jr., now retired from Congress, is her cousin. Other family members have been elected to the city council, the county commission, and the school board in Memphis. Victoria’s father, John Ford, was a state senator for three decades, another cog in the familial political machine.

Among young African Americans growing up in Memphis, Victoria’s story is far from typical. Memphis is a city with higher-than-average rates of poverty, drug use, single-parent homes, and criminal recidivism, but Victoria grew up in a two-story brick home with a mother and father. She attended an above-average city school … (read more)