Boiling Springs native Ron Rash keeps returning to the North Carolina mountains for stories that illuminate the kindness and rawness of human nature. Drawing from the heart and soul of Appalachia, he crafted the short story collection Burning Bright, which received the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award in 2010.
Rash, the Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Cultural Studies at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, also is the author of Serena, called the “Appalachian Macbeth” for its vivid depiction of a 1920s timber baron, his ruthless wife and the greed, politics and human tragedy surrounding the logging industry and the development of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
With family roots in the western mountains of N.C. going back to the 1700s, Rash says that an understanding of history is “crucial” and that his dedication to historical accuracy “keeps the reader in the story.” A 2009 New York Times notable book, Serena has been published in six languages.
His other works include the novels One Foot in Eden, Saints at the River and The World Made Straight; three poetry collections; and three other collections of short stories.
“I just love short stories, and I love to write them,” Rash says. “I think short stories are the hardest form to write — harder than poetry and harder than novels. There’s concision such as there is in poetry, a sense that every word and every sentence has to be in place for a short story to work. Yet at the same time the reader has to feel the satisfaction of a novel, the sense of an arc, a conclusion, a whole experience being rendered. My hope is that people who have only read Serena might be interested in what I do in a shorter form.”
Rash developed his love of writing at the age of five from a grandfather who could neither read nor write. His grandfather would open Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat and make up a story corresponding to the colorful characters. Every time he “read” the book, the story would be different, demonstrating to the young Rash the “magic” of words.
Still, Rash acknowledges that writing is the work of a lifetime. He has been writing “seriously” four or five hours a day, six days a week for 30 years.
“I think talent is overrated and persistence is underrated,” he says. “So many people start off in high school or college saying they want to be writers, but it’s the ones who can stick with it — who don’t give up and get discouraged even when they don’t get support — that succeed. It’s like anything else, if you work at it a long time you get better at it. Too many people who have the ability to write excellent stories and novels give up too quickly.”
Rash’s persistence has paid off. He was the recipient of the 2005 O. Henry Prize for the story Speckled Trout, a 2008 PEN/Faulkner finalist for the collection Chemistry and Other Stories and a 2009 PEN/Faulkner finalist for Serena.