Rash, Ron 1953–

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Rash, Ron 1953–

PERSONAL: Born 1953, in Chester, SC; married; children: two. Ethnicity: "White Appalachian." Education: Gardner-Webb College (Boiling Springs, NC); Clemson University. Religion: Baptist.

ADDRESSES: Office—English Dept., Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC 28723. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Educator and writer. Teaching positions include TriCounty Technical College, Pendelton, SC, English instructor; Queens College, Charlotte, NC, poetry instructor; Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC, Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Studies. Also served as instructor at Clemson University and the University of Georgia.

AWARDS, HONORS: Academy of American Poets Prize, 1986; GE Foundation Award; South Carolina Academy of Authors Poetry Award; National Endowment for the Arts poetry fellowship, 1994; Sherwood Anderson Award, 1996; Novello Festival Press Literary Award, and Forward magazine's Gold Medal for Best Literary Novel, both 2002, Appalachian Writers Association Book of the Year, 2003, all for One Foot in Eden; O. Henry Prize, 2005, for the short story "Speckle Trout," Southern Book Critics Award, 2005, for Saints at the River, Sir Walter Raleigh Prize, 2006, for The World Made Straight.

WRITINGS:

The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth and Other Stories from Cliffside, North Carolina, Bench Press (Columbia, SC), 1994.

Eureka Mill, Bench Press (Columbia, SC), 1998.

Among the Believers, Iris Press (Oak Ridge, TN), 2000.

Casualties (short stories), Bench Press (Columbia, SC), 2000.

Raising the Dead (poetry collection), Iris Press (Oak Ridge, TN), 2002.

One Foot in Eden (novel), Novello Festival Press (Charlotte, NC), 2002.

Saints at the River (novel), Holt (New York, NY), 2004.

The World Made Straight (novel), Holt (New York, NY), 2006.

Chemistry and Other Stories, Picador (New York, NY), 2007.

Also author of the children's book The Shark's Tooth; contributor of short fiction to periodicals, including Kenyon Review, Yale Review, Georgia Review, Oxford American, New England Review, Southern Review, Shenandoah, and DoubleTake.

SIDELIGHTS: Ron Rash was born in Chester, South Carolina, where both his mother and his father worked in a textile mill. When he was seven years old, his family moved back to western North Carolina, a region where Rash's ancestors had lived since the mid-1700s. Rash's father went to night school in order to complete a college degree and later became a college professor at Gardner-Webb University, in Boiling Springs, where Rash himself would later earn his bachelor's degree.

Rash returned to South Carolina to attend graduate school, where he met and married his wife, a fellow student. His teaching career has included positions at colleges and universities in the Carolinas. In an interview with Jack Shuler for the South Carolina Review, Rash stated, "I don't like living in cities." Rash's poetry, short stories, and novels often focus on the lives of people in rural, southern settings.

When asked by Shuler to identify the themes of his writing, Rash responded, "a lot of my imagery is religious." He then clarified by explaining that although his work is "Christ-haunted," it also contains some pagan imagery. One of his favorite themes, Rash said, is the meeting of paganism and Christianity, such as when an Appalachian Christian farmer kills "black snakes … to make it rain." Another of his themes is "things that are vanishing or gone," southern lifestyles that are fading out of existence, for example. To balance these themes of impermanence, Rash also uses natural metaphors, such as "a blade of grass or a waterfall," things that will be understood by a reader two hundred years from now, "because nature is universal."

Rash's first published work was the collection of short stories, The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth and Other Stories from Cliffside, North Carolina. The ten stories in this collection are told through the voices of a chicken farmer, a carpenter, and a man who has recently returned home to visit his mother. The three characters come together one night and share their visions of what the town of Cliffside means to them, what the town's past has been, what might lie ahead for the community, and the effect it and its southern culture has had upon their own lives. Gilbert Allen, a writer for the Georgia Review, commended Rash for creating "memorable voices and a host of unforgettable images." Rash won the Sherwood Anderson Award in 1996, two years after the publication of this collection.

For his collection of poetry Eureka Mill, Rash took the title from the name of the textile mill where his mother and father worked at the time of his birth. "It's such an ironic name," Rash told Shuler in his interview, because the Greek word eureka means "'I have found it.' What they [his parents] found there were hard times." The poems in this collection deal with the lives of people who work in the mills, a culture that is disappearing from South Carolina, in many ways, some believe, for the better. Rash points out the hard labor involved, the physical hazards, and the loss of personal and family connections. One of the main characters in these poems is Rash's grandfather, who moved away from the North Carolina mountains during the early part of the twentieth century to work in the mills of South Carolina. In order to describe Rash's work in this collection, South Carolina Review contributor G.C. Waldrep commented: "Most of Eureka Mill is composed in a kind of homestitched tetrameter, regular as the warp and weft of Oxford cloth and just as seamless." Robert West of Carolina Quarterly also commented on the meter of Rash's poems in this collection, reflecting that it is the meter than helps set "its solemn tone." West also found Rash's second publication to stand in stark contrast to his first book, The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth, which West described as a "hilarious story collection."

Rash's third book is also a collection of poetry. Among the Believers uses the mountains of western North Carolina as its setting and rural, everyday life as its focus. The poems, taken as a whole, have been compared to a short story or a novella by several critics. The themes of hard living and death in the lives of its characters tie the poems together and offer a full picture of life in the southern mountains. A writer for the Sewanee Review suggested that the poems be read "one by one in the sequence in which they unfold." In this way, the reviewer suggested, the reader will gain the full impact of the storytelling power of this collection. Anthony Hecht, who wrote the foreword for Rash's collection, is quoted in American Poet praising not only Rash's ability to tell a story through his poetry, but also his "remarkable skill … his dramatic instincts, stoic voice, and deep humanity." The collection also shows Rash's deepening interest in traditional Welsh poetics.

In the same year Among the Believers was published, Rash also produced his second collection of short stories, Casualties. The stories again reflect life in the South, both during earlier times and in conflicts between the present and the past. Although the title suggests some kind of war aftermath, the casualties in Rash's stories all relate to the realm of love—the death of a son and the effect it has on his mother; a son coming to terms with his father's depression—themes that are ancient and mythological in scope.

The author's first novel, One Foot in Eden, revolves around a murder in a small Appalachian town. Set in the 1950s, the story focuses on local sheriff Will Alexander's search for the missing Holland Winchester. Holland's mother thinks their neighbor, Billy Holcombe, has killed him because his wife, Amy, was having an affair with Holland. The story is told in the voices of Will and Amy as they present a tale of treachery and betrayal. In a review in Publishers Weekly, a contributor commented that the author "writes lyrically while maintaining the suspense of the central mystery." Cheryl L. Conway, writing in Library Journal, called the novel "compelling" and praised Rash's ability to present "colloquial dialect and lyrical descriptions of a way of life that has disappeared."

Rash's next novel, Saints at the River, is narrated by Maggie Glenn, a young, South Carolina newspaper photographer who, along with reporter Allen Hemphill, is covering the death of a little girl in the Tamassee River. Unfortunately, the girl's body is lodged in rocks and cannot be freed. As a result, her banker father from the North wants to construct a temporary dam to divert the river, which leads to large environmental concerns and a battle between river protector Luke Miller and the dead girl's parents. Intertwined with this plot is the story of Maggie's estrangement from her dying father. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the novel "a gripping environmental drama" and "spare, resonant, unput-downable."

The World Made Straight tells the story of Travis Shelton, who drops out from high school, steals marijuana grown by the Tooney clan on their North Carolina land, and ends up moving in with thirty-something Leonard Shuler, an ex-teacher who has a connection with Travis via their families' Civil War pasts. At Leonard's house Travis meets drug-addicted Dena, whose only real interest is books, just like Travis. Eventually, Leonard starts helping Travis prepare for his GED and a new life only to find Travis beginning to fall back into his old ways as the Tooney clan shows up seeking revenge for Travis's thefts. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the novel "thoughtful, above-average entertainment." Writing in Publishers Weekly, a contributor noted the author's "vivid prose" and his ability to tell the story "without sentimentality or easy answers."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Poet, spring, 2001, review of Among the Believers, p. 59.

Bloomsbury Review, July-August, 2002, review of Raising the Dead.

Carolina Quarterly, summer, 1998, Robert West, "Of Looms and Fatelooms," pp. 74-76.

Georgia Review, fall, 1995, Gilbert Allen, review of The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth and Other Stories from Cliffside, North Carolina, pp. 753-754; fall, 2001, Kathleen Snodgrass, review of Casualties, p. 645.

Kirkus Reviews, May 15, 2004, review of Saints at the River, p. 466; January 15, 2006, review of The World Made Straight, p. 59.

Library Journal, January, 2004, Cheryl L. Conway, review of One Foot in Eden, p. 160; June 1, 2004, David A. Berona, review of Saints at the River, p. 123; February 15, 2006, Stephen Morrow, review of The World Made Straight, p. 109.

Publishers Weekly, January 12, 2004, review of One Foot in Eden, p. 37; January 30, 2006, review of The World Made Straight, p. 36.

Sewanee Review, winter, 2001, review of Among the Believers, p. iv.

South Carolina Review, spring, 1998, G.C. Waldrep, "The Machinery of Raiment," pp. 143-146; fall, 2000, Jack Shuler, "An Interview with Ron Rash," pp. 11-16; spring, 2002, Jarret Keene, review of Raising the Dead, pp. 182-184.

ONLINE

Iris Press Web site, http://www.irisbooks.com/ (October 10, 2006), brief biography of author.

Southern Scribe, http://www.southernscribe.com/ (October 10, 2006), Pam Kingsbury, "Language Can Be Magical: An Interview with Ron Rash."

Western Carolina University Web site, http://www.wcu.edu/ (October 10, 2006), "Critically Acclaimed Writer Ron Rash Named WCU's Parris Professor."