GROSSE POINTES — Kelly Fordon is a mom who lives in Grosse Pointe City, but neither of those aspects of her life directly inspired “Garden for the Blind,” a collection of short stories published by Wayne State University Press.
Her children were very young when she started working on the book roughly a decade ago, and the setting — described in a press release as “an affluent suburb bordering Detroit” — shouldn’t be interpreted as the Pointes, the author cautioned. In “Garden for the Blind,” Alice Townley, a young girl from a well-to-do family, witnesses a terrible accident that leaves a lasting imprint on her, and later she and her wealthy friends learn that even their seemingly consequence-free lives can be rocked from within, after Alice and buddy Mike blame a crime on a mutual friend at their prestigious high school.
“I didn’t want to think of (the setting) as Grosse Pointe, because that could happen in any affluent suburb,” Fordon explained. “It is about privilege, and how much you can get away with when you’re privileged.”
Fordon will be reading from her book during a book launch from 7:30-9 p.m. April 22 at the Ewald Branch of the Grosse Pointe Public Library, 15175 E. Jefferson Ave. in Grosse Pointe Park. She will be signing copies of her book, which will be available for purchase.
Although the book — Fordon’s first volume of fiction — is technically billed as a collection of short stories, the author said it’s more akin to a novel.
“They’re linked short stories, so it makes more sense if you read them in order,” Fordon said. “The characters grow from story to story.”
National Book Award winner Julia Glass, author of “And the Dark Sacred Night,” said of “Garden for the Blind” in a blurb, “Each of Kelly Fordon’s stories is perceptive, memorable and moving — but taken together, they compose something far more significant: a tragic-comic elegy for American youth as we knew it in the late 20th century.”
Another National Book Award winner, Gloria Whelan, of Grosse Pointe Woods, author of “Living Together,” called these stories “profound and deeply moving.”
“Fordon’s characters have to navigate a world of cynical politics and easy drugs,” Whelan wrote. “They long for their own identity but are lost in the demands the world makes of them. They want a set of rules in which to live their lives of easy comfort and killing neighborhoods. These stories are at once unsentimental and tender, and you won’t forget them.”
Fordon and her husband, banker Fred Fordon, have been married since 1993, which is when they moved to the Pointes. They have three sons, ages 20, 18 and 12, and one daughter, age 16.
Fordon, whose family hails from Ohio but who grew up in Washington, D.C., received her bachelor’s degree from Kenyon College and a master’s degree in communications from Ohio University. She also received a master’s degree in fiction writing from Queens University of Charlotte, and is a writer-in-residence for InsideOut Literary Arts in Detroit.
Fordon said she always wanted to be a fiction writer, but she went into journalism because it seemed like it would be “more practical.” She worked as a reporter for National Geographic, the Connection newspapers in suburban Virginia, and the Detroit Public Radio station WDET-FM.
“I loved fiction and wanted to write fiction, but didn’t think I could make a living at it,” Fordon said.
She said she had always written poetry, and in 1993, she earned a scholarship to study poetry at the prestigious Bread Loaf writing conference at Middlebury College in Vermont.
“I write poetry when I am trying to capture an emotion through imagery, and writing poetry has helped me pay close attention to my language and descriptions when I’m writing fiction,” Fordon said.
She is the author of two poetry chapbooks: “On the Street Where We Live,” which won the 2011 Standing Rock Chapbook Contest, and 2013’s “Tell Me When It Starts to Hurt.”
Fordon eventually realized that she found fiction more compelling than nonfiction.
“In general, I write fiction when I have a story to tell,” she said. “I realized I was going to write more fiction than nonfiction when I was working at the local paper in northern Virginia, and I was covering the Junior League Show House or a school board meeting, and I kept saying to myself: This will be an interesting article, but what would happen if a one-legged man walked in here and started singing show tunes? Or, what would happen if a deranged interior decorator broke into the Junior League Show house and spray-painted the place? Essentially, the ‘what if’ took over, and I decided to give up on journalism and try to write short stories instead.”
Now working on a new collection of poetry and her first novel, Fordon hopes readers feel some compassion for the characters in “Garden,” however unlikable they may be.
“Psychologically, they’re so diminished by (what they do to their classmate),” she said of the privileged youths, who grow into troubled adults. “There’s always a price to pay — even if you don’t see it.”
The April 22 library program is free, but reservations are required because seating is limited. For reservations or more information, call (313) 343-2074, ext. 222.
For more about Fordon, visit www.kellyfordon.com.