By Kathie Klarreich
It takes a special kind of person to move an audience from laughter to reflection in seconds, but for Ashley Ford, that ability seems as instinctual as her storytelling. During her nearly hour-long conversation with researcher, writer and community archivist Nadege Green, Ford gave insight and perspective on Somebody’s Daughter, a memoir which explores family relationships through love and forgiveness.
A common theme that ran throughout her conversation was her own reckoning with imagination, fantasy and reality. “I had to reconcile what life could have been,” rather than what it was, she said. As a child it was easier for her to play with kids in her imagination than it was to be physically present with her 16 cousins. And it was easier to fantasized what life with an at-home father and a constant, present, loving mother might have been in contrast to the reality of growing up with an incarcerated dad and a wounded, angry mother who withheld the emotional warmth Ford so desperately wanted.
With grace and aplomb, in a flowing black and gold dress, Ford often used her hands to punctuate her process of loving and forgiving. In response to poetic and provocative prompts from Green, a powerful storyteller herself. Ford described the long road of learning to accept that one person’s everything could be someone else’s monster. She rejected the notion that asking someone to be silent around an issue larger than a simple apology is a legitimate definition of love. And forgiveness, she said, “is giving up on the idea that it was ever going to be different.”
For the most part, she said her family instilled fear – “You’re not going to drive on the highway, are you?” — and the audience erupted in laughter, just as they chuckled when she said she attended a family reunion just a month after her memoir came out. “I was ready to box,” she recalled, but said they just wanted to know if she was friends with Oprah.
Through her writing and reflections, she’s learned to have compassion and recognize that different realities occur simultaneously. She had to figure out how to be okay with living with the love she felt for her father and reconcile her complicated relationship with her mother. What she had longed for she eventually found in the man she married, and through that relationship, she said, “I was able to give myself what I needed.”
Kathie Klarreich, a former journalist and author of Madame Dread: A Tale of Love, Vodou and Civil Strife in Haiti, currently runs the nonprofit she founded in 2014, Exchange for Change, which offers writing courses to men, women and juveniles in carceral settings throughout South Florida.