A collection of media interviews with Ron Rash, Western Carolina University’s Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Cultural Studies and an acclaimed author, has been published by the University Press of Mississippi as part of its Literary Conversation Series.
“Conversations with Ron Rash” was edited by Mae Miller Claxton, WCU associate professor of English, and Rain Newcomb, a former lecturer with the WCU English Department. The book provides insight into Rash’s writing career from his first collection of short stories published in 1994 through his 2015 novel “Above the Waterfall.” The 21 interviews cover topics such as his writing process, the settings and character development he employs, and his reflections on his poetry, short stories and novels.
“The new book is a collection of interviews from all kinds of publications and broadcasts, from NPR to the Asheville Citizen-Times, with the goal of providing a synopsis of Ron’s writing life from 1999 until 2015,” said Claxton. “One reason I wanted to do the collection was that Ron always speaks so generously and insightfully about his writing and about writing in general. I hoped the book would provide important information about his writing, but also provide inspiration for other aspiring writers.”
In addition to interviews, the book includes an introduction by Claxton, a chronology and a bibliography. Rash’s poetry and fiction have appeared in more than 100 journals, magazines and anthologies.
“This was a fun project,” Claxton said. “These interviews shed some light on Ron as a writer, especially his influences and his evolution as a Southern Appalachian writer.
“The other notable thing worth mentioning is that he comfortably works in three genres ― poetry, short stories and novels. That’s not common, but Appalachian writers for some reason often tend to write in more than one genre. There’s Robert Morgan, Wilma Dykeman and Wendell Berry, for example, who have done it successfully. And add Ron Rash to the list.”
Rash uses his family history, with many relatives having worked with their hands as farmers or millworkers, to create the settings for most of his work. “I actually start sometimes with a voice, usually an image, an image that won’t leave me alone and I have to find out where that image will lead me,” Rash said. His most recent novel, “The Risen,” is set in Sylva with a plot built around an unsolved murder dating back to the late 1960s. The novel’s origins are related to an actual murder that occurred near Rash’s Boiling Springs home in his youth and the reoccurring bad dreams he experienced in the years since.
“It is an honor to have a scholar of Mae’s caliber find my work worthy of such a project,” Rash said.
Five of the interviews are from international publications, with two appearing for the first time in English. Rash’s works have drawn an international following, especially in England, Ireland and France.
This is Claxton’s second effort for the University Press of Mississippi’s Literary Conversation Series, the first being “Conversations with Dorothy Allison” published in 2012. She was a contributing editor to the sixth edition of “Heath Anthology of American Literature” and co-editor of the eighth edition of “McMichael Anthology of American Literature.” Her scholarship focuses primarily on Eudora Welty. She served as president of the Eudora Welty Society from 2010 to 2012.
Claxton recently has expanded her interests to Horace Kephart, a Bryson City proponent for establishment of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and author of the classics “Our Southern Highlanders” and “Camping and Woodcraft.” She is currently developing a number of projects from the Kephart collection in Hunter Library. She teaches classes in American, Southern, Appalachian and Native American literature at WCU.
Rash has been awarded an NEA Poetry Fellowship, the Sherwood Anderson Prize and the Novella Festival Novel Award and is twice winner of O. Henry awards, as well as the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. “Above the Waterfall” was the Prince of Tides Literary Prize Winner in the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance’s 2016 Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize competition.
By Geoff Cantrell