Robert Ward was born in Baltimore on October 27th ,1943. He spent his high school years reading everything but the curriculum at Baltimore City College, (actually a high school), and then barely went to college, where he spent four more years reading every novel he could get his hands on, while ignoring most of his other studies. In his senior year in college he wrote a short story which won a school literary prize called “The Value of Evolon.” He was employed as a social worker by Baltimore City for a year, after college. He won a scholarship to the University of Arkansas Writer ‘s program in 66, and left for Fayetteville that year. Later, he moved to San Francisco to live in Haight Ashbury.
He took part in all the great Love In’s in Golden Gate Park, lived next door to the Gypsy Jokers motorcycle Gang, who stopped by to chat on a regular basis. He played in a blues band for a couple of months in the Haight, became addicted to speed and acid, and left after six months to return home to Baltimore. He lived in the ghetto in Baltimore, and the Sunday after Martin Luther King was shot his whole block of North Avenue was burned down, and Ward was chased down the street by angry blacks screaming, “You shouldn’t a killed Martin.” With rocks and bottles bouncing off of his head he didn’t have time to explain to them that he was their “hippie brother.” Ironically, he had to get help from the very PIGS he thought he despised to get back to his apartment before it burned to the ground. He managed to save his novel, now 500 pages long, and his electric guitar. After living on friend’s couches for months he went back to Arkansas, and lived on Markham Hill.
After getting his MFA degree Ward got a job teaching at Miami University-Hamilton Campus in Hamilton Ohio. His bosses at the school threatened to fire him daily, and one dean even insisted he wear orange leather desert boots rather than the Jack Purcell sneakers Ward favored. The dean brought the bright orange shoes in for him to try on and Ward wore then for a week, causing his pupils to fall from their desks laughing. The experiment ended when Ward set the shoes on fire outside the campus door one evening. Ward made several good friends in Ohio, but for the most part found the people as bland and deadly dull as the landscape.
He had finished re-writing his novel, Shedding Skin, about his travels, and lunatic adventures, and it was accepted for publication by Harper and Row in 1968. Upon hearing of an opening for a teaching job at Hobart and William Smith College, Ward sent his novel to the head of the creative writing program, James Crenner. Crenner wrote him back that he thought the book was one of the greatest novels he’d ever read, and invited him to Geneva for an interview. After five years of teaching literature Ward grew to hate himself for being an academic. Though his novel came out and won an NEA Grant as one of the best novels published in 1972, he felt that he was outside of real life, withering away on a college campus, while pretending to be a bad ass radical. In addition, his attempt at a second book was a disaster, and he began to take opiates and drink whiskey to dull the pain of his total and his absolute failure of nerve.
Ward, trashed and depressed, moved to a small house on Lake Seneca, where he began to reassess his life. He realized that he would never be an academic, and his only chance for survival was to get to New York City and become a journalist. He managed this feat by hanging out with the local cops for a piece which he then sold to New Times Magazine. The piece caused a local furor, and Ward feared for his life, but anything was better than staying in the academy for the rest of his life. In two years he had become a top contributor to New Times, and also the leading journalist for Sport magazine. He also wrote for GQ, Rolling Stone and many other magazines after quitting teaching and moving to New York City. His life there was chaotic, and wild, which was exactly what he wanted.
Meanwhile, at night he finished his second novel Cattle Annie and Little Britches, sold it to the movies and wrote the script which a few years later was made into a critically acclaimed movie starring Diane Lane and Burt Lancaster. Once in New York, Ward felt as though he was living the real life of a real writer, and as a result all his work blossomed. Cattle Annie led to other movie assignments, the journalist gigs came fast and furious, and Ward eventually fell in love with Celeste Wesson, a beautiful and brilliant blonde from WBAI radio. She moved to Washington DC, and Ward suffered another breakdown after writing a book for five years which came to nothing. Finally, when all hope seemed lost, Ward found the right voice for his new novel, Red Baker, and began to start all over again. In nine months he had his best book ever, but it was turned down by all thirty one publishers it was submitted to.
Ward was depressed.
Three weeks later his agent, Jay Acton, sent the book to editor, Joyce Johnson, Jack Kerouac’s ex-girlfriend and herself a fine novelist and essayist. She bought the book for Dial Press. It was published, received rave reviews in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Village Voice. Eventually, it won the Pen West Award as the best Novel Published in 1985 in the United States.,
By then Ward and his girlfriend Celeste, had gotten married, and Ward had received an offer from David Milch and Jeff Lewis, producers of the award winning tv show Hill Street Blues. He and Ms. Wesson moved West to Hollywood and to Laurel Canyon and for the next twio years he wrote and produced Hill Street along with a brilliant writing staff which included, Waylon Greene, Dick Wolfe, Chris Williams, Jeff Melvin, John Litvack and John Romano. After Hill Street ended in 87, Ward was much in demand and wrote a tv movie with Academy Award winning director Bill Friedken. The show Cat Squad: Python Wolf received universally good reviews and has played many times on NBC. After the tv movie was done Ward was asked to replace Michael Mann at Miami Vice . Mann was going off to do a mini-series called Drug Wars, and Universal tv’s boss Kerry McCluggage asked Ward to be the show runner. Ward accepted the job, and had such a great time working at Universal that he got a three year deal after Vice ended. During that time he wrote tv movies for the studio, and finished his fourth novel, The King of Cards.
In 1991 Ward had his second son, Robert Wesson Ward, and for the next 18 years he has taken care of his boy and written three more novels, one of which “Four Kinds of Rain” was called a comic masterpiece by Michael Connelly, and was a New York Times notable book of the year. Ward has also acted in his western Brotherhood of the Gun, and played himself in the ESPN mini series The Bronx Is Burning, a film which was in part based on his famous Sport magazine piece on Reggie Jackson. Ward is now in talks with producers about doing ‘Rain’ as a movie. And there has recently been interest in re-making Cattle Annie and Little Britches. He and Celeste Wesson have been happily married for twenty seven years. His son is a junior at The University of Chicago.
This year he has two books coming out, the novel “The Best, Bad Dream” with Grove/Atlantic and a collection of his best magazine pieces, “Renegades”, from Tyrus Books. Renegades features long, in depth pieces on such US icons like Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum, Pete Maravich, Larry Flynt and Reggie Jackson.
In addition, all of Ward’s back list in now available in ebook and trade paperback from Tyrus Books.