By Chaz Lilly
With a list of novels, five books of poetry and seven collections of short stories, Ron Rash has garnered a number of prestigious awards in his writing career. Now, a new designation celebrates his contribution to North Carolina letters.
Rash, the Parris Distinguished Professor in Appalachian Cultural Studies at Western Carolina University, has been named to the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.
“We are thrilled that Ron Rash is being inducted in the NC Literary Hall of fame, a well-deserved honor,” said David Kinner, dean of WCU’s College of Arts and Sciences. “Like WCU, Ron’s work is tied to our region, its history and its people, and through his writing, he has entertained us, moved us and made us think. Ron is a prolific author, an integral part of our community and our students benefit from being able to learn from him.”
Inductions to the Hall of Fame are held every other year and is a program of the North Carolina Writers’ Network.
“Ron Rash has been among our state’s most accomplished writers of this century. His career is proof that work of high quality can find a wide and eager audience,” said Ed Southern, executive director of the Writers’ Network.
Rash said he was grateful to be placed among authors who impacted his journey as a writer.
“What makes this honor so meaningful is that previous inductees, especially Thomas Wolfe, Fred Chappell, Lee Smith and Robert Morgan, are writers who have inspired and influenced my own work,” Rash said.
Like those authors before him, Rash has influenced and impacted the next generation of writers. David Joy, who received his bachelor’s and master’s from WCU and whose novels have been met with critical acclaim, said Rash helped pave the path to success.
“There is no David Joy the novelist without Ron Rash,” Joy said. “He was just that instrumental in showing me the trailhead that would become the course of my life. From handing me the right books at the right times, to just showing me what it looks like to have a profound love for language and story. The thing that hangs with me most is the ear he had for the music of it all. I think in a lot of ways he was able to train my ear to be listening for the same things.
“The thing about Ron, though, is that when he’s mentioned it’s rarely just to compliment the writing. What’s brought up time and time again is the kindness and generosity he’s shown to everyone he's ever encountered. And that's more a statement about the man than it is about the writer.”
Current students echoed Joy’s sentiments. Johnny Holloway, who is pursuing his master’s degree in English, is enrolled in Rash’s creative writing workshop.
“After getting over the initial shock of being in the same room with such a great storyteller, you realize how kind professor Rash is. You can tell he’s really listening to each story and looking to help students improve,” Holloway said. “His class will certainly standout as a highlight of my graduate career.”
Rash is the author of the PEN/Faulkner finalist and New York Times bestselling novel “Serena,” in addition to the critically acclaimed novels “The Risen,” “Above the Waterfall,” “The Cove,” “One Foot in Eden,” “Saints at the River,” and “The World Made Straight”; five collections of poems; and seven collections of stories, among them “Burning Bright,” which won the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” a New York Times bestseller, “Chemistry and Other Stories,” which was a finalist for the 2007 PEN/Faulkner Award, and “In the Valley.” Three times the recipient of the O. Henry Prize, his books have been translated into 17 languages.
This is the second WCU faculty member to be named to the North Carolina Hall of Fame. Kathryn Stripling Byer was inducted in 2012. She served as the university’s poet-in-residence from 1988-98.