David Adams Richards was born in Newcastle, New Brunswick, on October 17, 1950. While attending St. Thomas University in Fredericton, he joined a local writer’s circle whose members included notable Canadian writers Fred Cogswell and Alden Nowlan. His first publications were poems in the literary magazines Fiddlehead and Urchin (the latter for which he once served as editor). In 1973, the first chapters of his novel in progress, The Coming of Winter, won the national Norma Epstein Award for Creative Writing, at which point he dropped out of university three credits short of obtaining his degree to become a full-time writer. Since then he has continued to write full-time, living abroad at times but mainly in New Brunswick. Richards has been writer in residence at Mount Allison University (1982), University of New Brunswick (1983-87), University of Alberta (1990-91), and University of Ottawa (1992-93). He has lived in Toronto since 1997.
Since the 1970s Richards has published steadily and to increasing critical and commercial success. Richards’ Miramichi trilogy — Nights Below Station Street (1988), Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace (1990), and For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down (1993) — constitutes the focal point of Richards’ acceptance in Canada’s contemporary literary canon. Nights Below Station Street won the Governor General’s Award for fiction in 1988, Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace won the Canadian Authors Association Award in 1991, and For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down won him the Alden Nowlan Award for Excellence in English-Language Literary Arts in 1993 and the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award in 1994. In 1992, Richards won the Canada-Australia Literary Prize, awarded for the excellence of an author’s complete body of work.
His later works continued to receive strong acclaim. Lines on the Water, about fishing on the Miramichi, won the Governor General’s Award for non-fiction in 1998, making Richards only the third person to win Governor General literary awards in two different categories. Mercy Among the Children (2000) was cowinner of the Giller Prize (with Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost) in 2000 and winner of the CBA Libris award for both novel of the year and author of the year in 2001.
Richards is primarily a prose writer, but his first two published books were of poetry. In addition, he has written many successful screenplays. Richards wrote his first screenplay for the film Tuesday, Wednesday (1987). His screenplay for Small Gifts (1994), a Christmas television special broadcast in 1994 on CBC, won Richards Canada’s Gemini Award for best writing in a children’s or youth program in 1996 and the New York Film Festival award for best script in 1996. His own adaptation of For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down for a 1996 television movie won Adams a second Gemini award in 1998. Nights Below Station Street was made into a feature film in 1997 by Norma Bailey, and The Bay of Love and Sorrows (1998) was made into a feature film in 2002 by Tim Southam. Richards’ parents owned movie theatres in the Miramichi region of New Brunswick, and in many ways the cinema has influenced his art as much as literature. River of the Brokenhearted (2003) is autobiographical in its depiction of a family whose fortunes (emotional and economic) rise and fall with the success of its movie theatres.
Among his literary inspirations Richards claims Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. These influences demonstrate themselves in his books’ realism, strong sense of place, and interest in family histories. For Richards, the place is the Miramichi River valley of northern New Brunswick, and the families consist of lower middle-class and working-class people coping with considerable psychological and familial strife. In particular his work resembles William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County stories, with their focus on the clash of the individual will with the force of local history, and the desires and constraints that devolve on both from the outer world. Although Richards sets his work in the same small geographic space, his work examines many of the themes, large or small, that contribute to the larger dialogue about what is means to be Canadian. Indeed, the specificity of his times and places does not narrow the relevance of his work to those who know New Brunswick or even Canada. In fact, by insisting on the physical and psychological details of ordinary life, his writing makes the argument that all larger economic and political questions, in all parts of the world, inevitably play out in the smaller moral and social questions that every community struggles to answer. (Vivian Zenari)
Updated February 12 2015 by Student & Academic Services