Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Ron Rash

I've seen Ron Rash several times over the past month, first at the James Dickey Conference, then at the South Carolina Book Festival, and then yesterday at his reading at Columbia's Richland County Library. I have been reading and admiring Ron's poems and stories for years, since well before his novel One Foot in Eden drew national attention, well deserved. His subsequent novels, Saints at the River and A World Made Straight have both done well. All three have been read by Dick Estell on Radio Reader, the nationally syndicated NPR show. We adopted One Foot in Eden as a text for composition classes a couple years ago at Francis Marion University, inviting Ron to campus in connection with that. The book was a tremendous hit among the students.

Although I was already familiar with his work, I first met Ron maybe 6 years ago when we both taught for 3 weeks in the South Governor's School for the Arts Summer Program. He taught fiction, while I handled the poetry for the creative writing students. One of the most gifted of those students, Sarah Saylor, enrolled at USC, and I've run into her several times at readings on campus.

At Ron's library reading yesterday, which I attended with Janne, he was his usual relaxed and articulate self, his distinct Appalachian drawl spinning out stories both funny and poignant as he set up readings from two published novels and one forthcoming novel, the be called Serena. The longest piece he read was from the new novel, and it was about a strong woman, Serena, married to a timber baron, who is as adept at timber work as any of the men in their employ. Ron read a section about how she brought an eagle into the mountains and trained it to attack the rattlesnakes that were such a scourge in the woods. In the Q and A following, speaking of research, Ron told how he tracked down one of the few men who still hunts with eagles, corresponding with him and then I suppose visiting him to find out more about this arcane art. He said when you're doing research on a topic, the best thing to do is to find the person who's fanatical about it, who thinks it's the most important thing in the world, and you get your material from that source.

After responding to the inevitable question about his influences, he noted that he keeps a photo of Flannery O'Connor above his writing desk and imagines that every day she tells him, "You ain't there yet, boy." I can't wait to read Ron's new book of stories, Chemistry and Other Stories, due out next month--and then the novel, which won't be out for another year or so.


Ten Poems by Ron Rash

"The Exchange" in Poetry 180

2004 Interview with Rash

2005 Interview with Rash

Another 2005 Interview with Rash

Reviews of The World Made Straight

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