Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Homicidal Irony That Shadowed Jesse Hill Ford

The Fledgling Writer

Jesse Hill Ford, Jr was born in 1928 in Troy, Alabama. He was named after his father, Jesse Ford, Sr. a drugstore manager. His mother, Lucile Ford, was an elementary school teacher.

By the time he was in second grade, Jesse's talent for writing was evident. At the young age of seven, Jesse wrote two essays that impressed his teacher. The teenaged Jesse contributed to and edited his high school newspaper, The BELL, and played on the high school football team.

Jesse Hill Ford
Jesse Hill Ford
In 1947 Jesse enrolled in Vanderbilt University. While still in college, he wrote for the Nashville Tennessean, a city newspaper.

Poet Donald Davidson, a member of the Agrarian movement that advocated a return to an agricultural lifestyle, mentored the fledgling writer.

After graduating from college in 1951, Jesse married the bespectacled and bubbly Sally Davis. He soon joined the United States Navy and later served in the Korean War.

After leaving the military, he was admitted to the University of Florida graduate school.

Jesse received a master's degree in 1955. He then worked in public relations, but, dissatisfied with the business, he yearned to devote all his energies to writing.

In 1955, Jesse and Sally moved to her hometown of Humboldt, Tennessee. There, he wrote full-time. The stay-at-home man without a regular job did not make a positive impression on his neighbors. One Humboldt resident recalled that people would "see him walking to the post office every morning in a sweatshirt and tennis shoes to pick up his mail and they'd say, 'Look, there's that bum again.'"

Despite the criticism, Jesse began getting published. The Surest Thing in Show Business, a short story that appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, won the prestigious magazine's "Atlantic First" award.

CBS aired a play Jesse wrote, The Conversion of Buster Drumwright, in 1960. The next years saw a stream of publication that included both short stories and essays. His first novel, Mountains of Gilead, was published in 1961 and received critical praise.

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