This week, I’m highlighting the works of southern writer Ron Rash. A poet and fiction writer, Rash has won numerous awards, including the Frank O’Connor Award for his short story collection Burning Bright. He has a gift for beautifully fluid, emotionally devastating prose and poetry, and writers will enjoy learning about his emphasis on creating meter (or sound and rhythm) in the lines of his fiction.
With the adaptation of his 2009 novel, Serena, into a film starring Jennifer Lawrence, I hope more readers will discover his work.
On Your Kindle
Set in 1930s North Carolina, the novel tells the story of a callous timber baron and his merciless wife, who exploit the local workers for their own gain. From its opening lines—“When Pemberton returned to the North Carolina mountains after three months in Boston settling his father’s estate, among those waiting on the train platform was a young woman pregnant with Pemberton’s child”—Rash builds the deadly conflict between Pemberton, Serena, and the mother of Pemberton’s illegitimate child with sharp grace.
On Your Smartphone
Literary website SouthernSpaces has created a small trove of Rash’s work, accompanied by audiovisual clips of Rash reading several poems. They include the opening section of his novel Saints at the River, which deals with the accidental drowning of a young girl, told entirely from her point of view. “Three AM and the Stars Were Out,” is my personal favorite of the poems; it’s narrated by an elderly, rural veterinarian, struggling to find meaning in the deaths that he experiences.
On a Podcast
“The State of Things” Interview, WUNC
Listen to Rash talk about his influences, themes, and the origins of Saints at the River in this interview from 2004. Rash talks in detail about Appalachian literature and discusses the process of writing about rural southern life, dispelling stereotype, and the nature of voice.
Discover Rash’s poetry with Eureka Mill, one of his earlier collections of poetry. Focused on the experiences of Rash’s own relatives, who worked in a South Carolina cotton mill, the collection includes spare, terse poems about rural working life, like “Brown Lung.”