On a recent trip to Fort Wayne, New York Times best-selling author Ashley C. Ford made a stop at the Allen County Public Library. The Fort Wayne-born author wanted to see her highly acclaimed book, “Somebody’s Daughter,” on the shelves of her hometown library.
“I’d stopped at the library to see if I could sign their copies of my book, but there weren’t any there. I looked in the section with local authors, and it wasn’t there, either. When I asked, I was told there weren’t any there because they’d all been checked out. That was like a dream moment,” said Ford.
Standing at the podium as the second speaker in Purdue University Fort Wayne’s 2021-22 Omnibus Speakers Series was another dream moment for Ford. “Having my story be read here and having it be, in certain ways, celebrated here, it’s the difference between a stranger saying, ‘I’m proud of you’ and your parents saying, ‘I’m proud of you,’” noted Ford. “It’s a different animal, and I’m just really grateful that I get this opportunity at this time in my life. Not only is it meaningful, but it’s also extremely gratifying.”
“Somebody’s Daughter” is Ford’s memoir of growing up in Fort Wayne. It is a story of dealing with your past to take hold of your future, and of finding love for those that are difficult to forgive. Ford struggled emotionally for much of her life, dealing with issues that manifested from dealing with an incarcerated father and an angry, emotionally unstable mother.
The book was released by publisher Flatiron Books in June. The book was almost 10 years in the making. Ford met with 14 publishing companies who had interest in the book before it went up for auction. When Flatiron discussed its connection with Oprah Winfrey and Winfrey’s interest in her work, Ford made her decision. Winfrey selected “Somebody’s Daughter” to receive her #AnOprahBook imprint. Winfrey tweeted, “I saw so much of my own story in this beautifully written book by Ashley, who — like me — also had to overcome a challenging childhood growing up as a poor, Black girl. Her remarkable memoir about finding love, finding freedom, and finding herself will move you.”
“She called me Ash,” said Ford, when discussing her excitement at being interviewed by Winfrey.
For her Omnibus talk, Ford told the audience, “This is a full-circle moment. It means a lot, not just because I’ve absolutely seen people speak at this college, and I’ve seen people speak in this town since the time I was a kid. I’ve always wondered if I would be good enough to be one of those people. Seeing all of you out here today is affirmation of my dream, and confirmation of my childhood suspicion that everyone has a story worth telling.”
Ford’s story of becoming a best-selling author started in East Allen County Schools on Fort Wayne’s southeast side. She attended Village Woods Elementary School, Southwick Elementary School, Village Woods Middle School and Paul Harding High School, graduating in 2004. She attended college at Ball State University, where she had seven different majors before finding one that fit — English Creative Writing. Ford took classes at Ball State until she could no longer afford to do so. She then moved to Indianapolis, where she held three jobs. When her car died and she couldn’t afford the repairs, Ford lost all three jobs because she didn’t have the transportation required to do the work. That is when she began her writing career in earnest, eventually ending up in New York.
Ford spent six years living in Brooklyn. During her time in the city, she became a well-established writer and guest editor for publications and social media platforms including Elle Magazine, Slate, Teen Vogue, New York Magazine, the New York Times, Domino, Cup of Jo, and other web and print publications. She is the former host of The Chronicles of Now podcast and cohost of the HBO companion podcast, Lovecraft Country Radio. Her writing career has given Ford opportunities to interview celebrities including Kamala Harris, Serena Williams, Anne Hathaway and Missy Elliott.
In October 2020, Ford and her husband, Kelly Stacy, moved back to Indiana. “One of the questions I’ve been asked a lot recently is why I came back,” said Ford. “My favorite reason to give people now is I have unfinished business with Indiana, and I like to say that because it sounds like a little bit of a threat, and so immediately people listen a little harder; they want to know a little more, and that gives me more room to say what I need to say, exactly as I need to say it, I wanted to force Indiana to claim me as its own.”
Ford related that as she has traveled the country and the world, she has been asked, “Wait, there are Black people in Indiana? Why do people have this picture of this state that doesn’t include people who look like me?”
Ford believes there is a lack of imagination about what comes from the southeast section of Fort Wayne. “When I was here, my school was under-funded and under-resourced. The side of town I lived on lacked investment from the rest of the city and the community,” said Ford. “The places that made me and raised me are gone. Paul Harding is not a high school anymore. Village Woods Middle School is not a middle school anymore. Those are the places that brought me up, and they deserved as much attention and support and resources as I see today, back then. It hurts — it sucks sometimes, to know that the reason people are so excited for you, and the reason people care so much about what you’ve done, is because of what they didn’t give you to get it done.
“I came back because this is where I’m from. This is what made me, and this place will call me its own, because I am. Every part of my story, the challenges, and the successes, are wrapped up in this place, and in this community, with these people. I belong to you, and that’s why I’m back.”
Ford also cited another reason for her return to Indiana. “I also came back to participate because there is no such thing as power without equal proportion to responsibility. I’m at a place in my life, and it probably won’t last, but a lot of people are listening to me right now. This is where I want to participate in that conversation. This is also where I want to participate in the lives of people around me.”
Ford’s talk to the over 800 people in attendance drew frequent rounds of applause. She also answered questions in a discussion with PFW’s Chief Diversity officer, Dr. MarTeze Hammonds, and took several questions from members of the audience about mental health, and on how she remains true to herself considering her current fame. “I talk to my sister regularly,” said Ford. “She likes to remind me that I ain’t nobody.”
“Somebody’s Daughter” is available through area bookstores and online retailers and is available in both hardcover and audio book formats.
PFW’s next Omnibus event is slated for Jan. 25, 2022 and will feature Monica Lewinsky speaking on “The Price of Shame.” Lewinsky is a social activist, producer, and contributing editor to Vanity Fair. For more information on the PFW Omnibus Speakers Series sponsored by the English-Bonter-Mitchell Foundation, visit www.pfw.edu.