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Noted writer Ron Rash to visit ETSU

February 4th, 2012 6:05 pm by staff report

Poet, short story writer and novelist Ron Rash will visit East Tennessee State University on Tuesday, Feb. 7, to read excerpts from his published and soon-to-be-published works.

Sponsored by the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, the program will begin at 7 p.m. in Ball Hall, room 127. A question-answer session, along with a reception in Slocumb Galleries, will follow.

Rash grew up in North Carolina’s Buncombe County and teaches at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee.

“It’s an ideal time to bring him to campus,” said ETSU Department of Literature and Language faculty member and poet Dr. Jesse Graves. “He is really at his career zenith. It’s a special opportunity to see a writer at his peak, and he is one of the most talked-about writers of this region in the country.”

The Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Cultural Studies at WCU, Rash has written four prize-winning novels — “One Foot in Eden,” “Saints at the River,” “The World Made Straight” and “Serena,” published in 2008, which was named “Best Novel of the Year” by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance.

He also has earned on two occasions the O. Henry Prize for short story writing and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, as well as ranking as a New York Times best-selling author. The O. Henry Prize recognizes the best short fiction in the country, while, Graves said, the Dublin-based O’Connor Award each year goes to the top collection of short stories in the world, and Rash was the only American finalist in 2010.

“We feel privileged to be able to schedule Mr. Rash for a local reading,” said Mary B. Martin School of the Arts Director Anita DeAngelis. “He has been called ‘one of the major writers of our time’ and is a master chronicler of Appalachia’s past and present. This visit will be a real treat for anyone who has an affinity for the region and good literature.”

Rash said he will likely start the reading with a brief short story and a couple of poems, then close with a sneak preview from his soon-to-be-published novel “The Cove.”

“I try to find something [the audience] can relate to,” said Rash, who starts a 30-city book tour for his new novel in April. “It’s nice to meet students. I like their enthusiasm. I think they come and sometimes they really don’t want to be there, and sometimes they turn around. It’s kind of funny what they will say. I had one say, ‘This wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.’ That was a very sincere compliment.

“I spend so much time in isolation, writing, it’s nice to get out and see there are people who find some value in the work I am doing — and I’ll get to see a couple of friends [at ETSU], including Jesse Graves, a young poet who is very, very talented.”

Few writers can match Rash’s depiction of the people and the places of Southern Appalachia, critics and colleagues have said.

“His stories are truly the best I’ve ever read about life in this region,” Graves added. “He gets into every aspect of life — pawn shop owners, people making meth, and in some of his stories, he really brings the past to life in a really vivid way. He represents the whole spectrum.

“Reading his work makes you feel more alive. He covers a wide range of emotions. You feel something.”

Whether it’s the old or the new South, rural, urban or urbane, Rash said he just wants to illustrate his locales and characters with realism, as well as emotion, wrapped in a good narrative.

“I want the reader to feel I’ve captured the way the people speak, the landscape …,” he said. “I hope that people can recognize that I have been true to the place, that I don’t sentimentalize it. I don’t demonize. I just try to show it as truly as I can.

“Within that you also see — and I hope my work shows this — a certain heroism, stoicism, people doing the best with what they’ve been given.”

The reading and reception are free and open to the public.

For information on ETSU’s Mary B. Martin School of the Arts or this event, call (423) 439-8587 or visit or

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