Ron Rash: A Unique Appalachian Voice

Ron Rash

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The Library Society of UT Knoxville and the Friends of the Knox County Library are proud to sponsor Ron Rash on March 4th at 7:30 PM at the East Tennessee History Center. The talk is free and open to the public, but registration is required.  Visit the knoxfriends.org to register. This lecture is part of the Knox County Library’s Wilma Dykeman lecture series. Rash will be introduced by Jim Stokely, the son of Wilma Dykeman and the president of the Wilma Dykeman Legacy foundation.

The Appalachia of Ron Rash is the land we are familiar with: the beautiful mountains, the small hamlets, family farms and the legacies of the past.  But to Rash, it is also the land of methamphetamine addicts, environmental destruction, ignorance and sudden, violent death.  His second novel, Saints at the River, opens with a tourist family picnicking alongside a picturesque mountain creek, standard territory for regional novelists.  Within a few minutes, however, a young girl is pulled under by the current and drowned, her body trapped under the rushing water by hydraulic force.  Thus is ignited a showdown between the girl’s family, political friends, protectors of the tourist industry and fervent environmentalists.  In The World Made Straight, the young man at the center of the novel is caught, literally, in an animal trap as he attempts to raid a marijuana grower’s crop and, figuratively, between his inherent intelligence and potential and the downward tug of ambitionless friends, a doubting father and his own bad impulses.  Interwoven in the contemporary story line is the Civil War era journal kept by a doctor that recounts the tremendous struggles that existed in the mountain region during the conflict that not only divided families and communities at the time but created divisions that continue to resonate.

Rash’s first book, a collection of short stories entitled The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth was published in 1994.  In the twenty years since then he has written four collections of poetry, four more short story collections, five novels and a children’s book.  His work has earned him numerous awards including the prestigious Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award for Burning Bright and the 2004 Fiction Book of the Year for Saints at the River (given by both the Southern Book Critics and the Southeastern Booksellers Association).  He has twice been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and was awarded the James Still Award by the Fellowship of Southern Writers.

Rash writes about the world he has always known.  His family has lived in the southern Appalachian Mountains since the mid-eighteen century.  A native of Boling Springs, North Carolina –about thirty miles west of Charlotte – Rash graduated from Gardner Webb University in Boiling Springs and then from Clemson University.  He holds the John Parris Chair in Appalachian Studies at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina.

Ron Rash’s life may be about to change.  A film version of his most ambitious novel, Serena, is set to be released in April of this year.  Directed by Danish film maker Susanne Bier and starring perennial Oscar nominees Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, the film was primarily filmed in the Czech Republic with some footage shot in the Cataloochee Valley in Haywood County, NC.   A second film based on a Rash novel is also in the works.  A smaller scale production, “The World Made Straight,” based on Rash’s novel of the same name, is being filmed in Buncombe and Madison counties, NC and features actors Jeremy Irvine (“War Horse”) and Noah Wyle (“E.R.”).

The novel Serena has received very positive reviews and was a New York Times Bestseller.   While Rash claims not to read reviews of his work if he can help it, his most recent short story collection, Nothing Gold Can Stay, has garnered reviews any author would be proud of.  USA Today stated, “A terrible beauty, to use Yeat’s poetic phrase, colors many of Ron Rash’s stories filled with violence, dark humor and surprise endings.  His prose is spare, clean and often haunting.”

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