Meet Me Halfway

Here, before it is too late, is an account of my career as a writer, which I have tried to write as though I didn’t write it myself. Read it and weep. There’ll be a quiz on Friday…

Andrew Ward (1946- ) is an essayist, novelist, and historian whose work has encompassed everything from fiction, essays, and movie criticism on subjects ranging from British India, black music, American slavery, the Civil War, and, most recently, the Roaring Twenties.

He has recently completed I, Capone, an epic historical novel masquerading as the long-lost oral memoirs of Al Capone, perhaps the most famous, and, for a brief period, the wealthiest gangster in American history. It is currently in the hands of his agent, Ellen Levine of Trident Media.

The son of educator F. Champion Ward and social activist Duira Baldinger Ward, Andrew Ward attended the University of Chicago Lab School until the age of eight. In 1954, his family moved to New Delhi, India, where he lived for the next four years (with one six-month home-leave in Chicago), and attended the American School.

In 1959, the family returned to the United States and moved to Riverside, Connecticut, where he attended Eastern Junior and Greenwich High Schools, and developed interests in art, music, and civil rights. At the age of 17, he attended the March on Washington and the following year helped to organize a picket line protesting the appearance of Strom Thurmond at his high school.

In 1964, he entered the family alma mater of Oberlin College and toured California with the Oberlin College Choir, but he flunked out after three semesters. For six months he worked as a machinist at Palmer Engines in Cos Cob, and in his free time sang at coffee houses in Greenwich Village, including the Bitter End.

When he received his draft notice in 1966, a heart murmur kept him out of the military. That fall he entered the Rhode Island School of Design, where he intended to study painting. His interest soon turned to photography, however, and after two years he left school and returned to India as a documentary photographer for the Ford Foundation, Encyclopaedia Britannica, and National Geographic.

Over the next year and a half, he covered the life of an Indian village, the sacred towns of Brindaban and Mathura, Old Delhi, and New Delhi’s Nizamuddin Complex; contributed to Encyclopaedia Britannica’s North Indian archive; and photographed the Pushkar camel fair in Rajasthan.

While in India, Ward married the former Deborah Lathrop Huntington, and in 1970 returned to the United States. His wife took a job as an editorial assistant at Audience Magazine, a hardbound bimonthly literary journal founded by Tim Hill and Ward’s older brother, the future historian Geoffrey C. Ward. Ward became so intrigued by the short stories his wife brought home to assess and edit that he wrote one himself and contributed it anonymously to Audience’s fiction editor, L. Rust Hills, Esquire’s once and future fiction editor. After Hills accepted it and two subsequent stories, Ward abandoned photography to become a writer.

For two years Ward taught art at the Marvelwood School in Cornwall, Connecticut. But in 1974, he moved with his wife and newborn son to New Haven, Connecticut, where she entered the Yale School of Nursing. He wrote essays and parodies, which the Atlantic Monthly began to publish, along with memoirs, reportage, and film criticism.

The Atlantic eventually made him a contributing editor, and in 1977, Senior Editor Richard Todd urged him to collect his work for the Atlantic, the New York Times, and various other publications. The result was Ward’s first book, Fits & Starts: The Premature Memoirs of Andrew Ward, for which he received an Atlantic Grant and which was published in 1978 by Atlantic/Little, Brown, whereupon Robert Taylor of the Boston Globe deemed him as belonging “alongside James Thurber and E.B. White.” (After the publication of Fits & Starts, he wrote a children’s book, Baby Bear and the Long Sleep, which was published by Atlantic/Little, Brown in 1980.)

Ward’s childhood fascination with the British Empire — particularly the Great Mutiny of 1857, whose centennial had been celebrated while he was a boy living in New Delhi — induced him to spend six years writing a novel about the Raj titled The Blood Seed, the ostensible memoir of Balbeer Rao, an orphaned boy caught up in the tumultuous history of 19th century India. Edited by Alan Williams and published by Viking in 1985, The Blood Seed was praised as “cause for celebration” by the Washington Post.

In 1979, Ward and his wife became the parents of a daughter and bought a house near Yale, where Deborah became an Assistant Professor of Nursing. As primary child-rearer, Ward took up the cause of their daycare center, Leila Day Nurseries, the oldest continuing daycare center in the country, and eventually became the president of its board of trustees. In 1987, he helped to sustain the Cold Spring School after its founder’s departure, and to take part in the planning of its reincarnation as the pioneering experiential urban school it has become.

That same year, however, his wife accepted a position teaching at the School of Nursing at the University of Washington, and the family moved to the Northwest. In the meantime, Ward had written a fictionalized account of a friend’s search for his kidnapped children titled A Cry of Absence, which was published in 1988 by Kathryn Court of Viking Penguin and deemed “inspiring” and “breathtaking” by Kirkus Reviews.

On arriving in the Northwest, Ward moved to Bainbridge Island, across Puget Sound from Seattle. As a weekly commentator on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, he began to broadcast commentaries on his move from the East Coast, for which he received a Genesis Award from the Ark Trust. These commentaries and other assorted essays were published by Viking in 1991 as Out Here: A Newcomer’s Notes from the Great Northwest, which the Seattle Times deemed “a fine book, immensely readable, written with wisdom and love,” and for which he received the Washington State Governor’s Award.

His essays caught the attention of Meg Greenfield, the editorial director of the Washington Post, where for a little over a year he published a widely praised weekly column. His pieces for the Post drew the attention and, in some cases, the ire of such luminaries as Bob Dole, Eugene McCarthy, Michael Kinsley, George Will, Phil Donahue, and Jerry Brown.

But his attention soon returned to the British Raj, and he eventually abandoned punditry to write a history. In 1996, John Macrae Books/Henry Holt published Our Bones Are Scattered: The Cawnpore Massacres and the Indian Mutiny of 1857, for which Ward received a second Governor’s Award. The book was acclaimed in the United States, India, and Great Britain, where several publications declared it a book of the year. William Dalrymple in the London Sunday Times deemed it a “masterpiece,” and P.J.O. Taylor in the Statesman of India judged it “definitive” and “unforgettable.” Our Bones Are Scattered became the basis for a Channel Four documentary broadcast in Great Britain in which Ward appeared touring the sites in present-day Kanpur.

While researching a proposed Civil War novel set in Tennessee, Ward’s early interest in the civil rights movement was rekindled by his encounter with the history of slavery. Eventually abandoning his novel, over the course of the following decade he wrote three historical narratives on the subject. The first, edited by John Glusman at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, was Dark Midnight When I Rise: The Story of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, which received the Christopher Award and the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award. Ward promoted the Jubilee Singers’ legacy before audiences at the Smithsonian and the New York Historical Society. The book became the subject of a documentary produced by Llewelyn Smith titled Sacrifice & Glory that was broadcast in 2000 on WGBH’s American Experience. Ward appeared with the current troupe of Jubilee Singers at Fisk University in Nashville, Cornell University, and the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York, the site of the original troupe’s New York debut.

His second African-American history, River Run Red: The Fort Pillow Massacre in the American Civil War, was published by Kathryn Court at Viking and became a History Book Club Selection and Lincoln Prize runner-up. His third, The Slaves’ War: The Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves, was edited by Web Younce at Houghton Mifflin and received the Pen West nonfiction award. The Slaves’ War was “original and groundbreaking,” wrote the Richmond-Times Dispatch. “…A much-needed work that fills a major void in the scholarship on the Civil War.” During Ward’s appearance on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart pronounced The Slaves’ War a “great book.” His presentations of all three of his African-American histories received televised coverage on C-Span’s BookTV.

Ward has written for many newspapers and magazines. In addition to the aforementioned publications, his work has appeared in Horizon, American Heritage, Redbook, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure, TV Guide, Military History Quarterly, The New York Times, Civil War Times, Reader’s Digest, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and National Geographic, for which he wrote profiles of Scotland and Vancouver, British Columbia. For American Heritage he not only wrote several features but conducted interviews with Thomas Berger, Hal Holbrook, and Randy Newman. He wrote a documentary treatment of the 1927 Mississippi flood for WGBH; and the scripts for widely acclaimed biographical documentaries on the lives of Saints Francis (2003), Patrick (2004), and Joan (2005) for Pamela Mason Wagner of Turtle Rock Productions and Faith & Values Media for broadcast on the Hallmark Channel.

Ward’s work has been reprinted in numerous textbooks and collections. He has appeared on various radio and television programs, including Fresh Air with Terry Gross, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and Nashville Public Television’s A Word on Words with John Seigenthaler, Sr.

Since moving to Davis, California in 2008, Ward has completed a prequel to River Run Red titled, The Battle of Plum Run & the Civil War on the Mississippi, and written a series of plays under the title To & Fro, set aboard the ships of the Peninsular & Oriental Line that transported the British to and from their outposts throughout the empire. Since moving to California he has also written three novels: Real India, The Headmaster’s Bell, and The Tuesday Professor.

Ward’s literary agent is Ellen Levine of Trident Media, and Susan Schulman is his theatrical agent.