Appalachian Heritage features writer Rash
Pen/Faulkner prize finalist and author of multiple acclaimed books, Ron Rash, took residence at Shepherd University this week for the 16th annual Appalachian Heritage Festival.
Rash in the recipient of the 2011 Appalachian Heritage Writers Award, and Serena is Shepherd University’s “One Book, One Community” choice for this year. He is the author of several award-winning novels and short story collections. He also serves as a professor at Western Carolina University where he holds the John Parris Chair of Appalachian Studies.
Shepherd hosted Rash as its writer-in-residence for Appalachian Heritage Week, which kicked off Sept. 26. The writer-in-residence project was designed by the English Department at Shepherd in 1998 in order to “celebrate and honor the work of a distinguished contemporary Appalachian writer,” according to the university’s website.
While at Shepherd, Rash participated in a writer’s master class as well as workshops and lectures throughout the week. On Thursday he accepted his award and gave a keynote address to attendees at the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies.
Ever since early childhood, Rash was fascinated with words and language. Rash’s grandfather was neither able to read nor write but would tell him stories every night before going to bed. It was in his grandfather’s stories that Rash said he learned that words could be magical. Rash described his own writing process as something like an old Polaroid photograph – starting with a powerful mental image and slowly fades into a story.
Eventually Rash went on to publish four novels and four short story collections, as well as multiple pieces of poetry and even a children’s book, entitled The Sharks Tooth. His list of accolades includes The Academy of American Poets Prize, The O. Henry Prize, the Southern Book Critic Circle Award and many others.
Rash said that persistence was key for him getting published. He was over 40 years old when he got his first piece of writing, Eureka Mill, published. The work was a poem about mill life outside Chester, S.C.
“I would get up every morning and write for three hours,” Rash said.
Rash has advice for young writers, encouraging them to read. He believes that all the best writers he knows are voracious readers.
Many of Rash’s books take on an environmentalist tone; Serena, for instance, follows a depression-era timber baron and his wife as they hastily work to strip the North Carolina mountains of their wood, due to the threat of an inevitable national park in the area.
“I think this is what the end of the world will be like,” said McIntyre, one of Rash’s characters from the book, as he looked out on the lifeless landscape he had helped destroy.
“I hope that people realize I was talking about the present,” Rash said. “I wrote Serena to show just how easily our national parks are lost.”
Rash identified his book with the debate on mountain top removal happening in West Virginia. He hopes that Shepherdstown residents will find the parallels of the situations.
“These are tough questions,” Rash said, describing the balance of a need to protect the nation’s natural ecosystems as well as provide jobs for working families.
Other events throughout the week included a tribute to Appalachian storytellers called “A Carolina Muse,” which was followed by a book signing of other Appalachian writers.
The Appalachian Heritage festivities continue with a festival today, Sept. 30 and Saturday, Oct. 1 with the Appalachian Heritage festival taking place at 8 p.m in the Frank Center for the Arts.