Poet, novelist. Rash was born in Chester, South Carolina, on September 23, 1953, the son of James Hubert Rash and Sue Holder. He earned a B.A. in English at Gardner-Webb College in North Carolina and then received his M.A. in English from Clemson University. He has taught writing and literature at Tri-County Technical College in Pendleton and in the master of fine arts program at Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 2003 he was named John A. Parris, Jr. and Dorothy Luxton Parris Distinguished Professor in Appalachian Cultural Studies at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina.
Rash’s family has lived in the southern Appalachian Mountains and in the Piedmont of the Carolinas since the mid-1700s. He uses the agrarian life in the mountains as a main theme in much of his poetry and fiction, showing the humor and tragedy of farm people struggling against the vagaries of weather and unstable farm prices on isolated, hardscrabble patches of land. Rash’s third book of poems, Raising the Dead (2002), and his novel, One Foot in Eden (2002), take as their central theme the plight of mountain people who are about to be displaced from their family lands by the waters of a lake built by an electric power company. Generations of people tied to ancestral soil undergo the anxieties of removal into the textile mill towns of the Piedmont.
These mill towns serve as the locales for three of Rash’s books: his first book of stories, The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth and Other Stories from Cliffside, North Carolina (1994); his book of stories Casualties (2000); and his book of poems Eureka Mill (1998). These poems and stories center on the lives of those who have left their mountain homes in search of stable wages and security in the mills. All too often they find hardship and poverty instead.
His novels Saints at the River (2004) and The World Made Straight (2006) are set in contemporary Appalachia. His fourth novel, Serena (2008), returns to the Appalachia of the first decades of the twentieth century. Serena and her husband are the rapacious and murderous owners of a lumber company. They are deter- mined to deforest the mountains before the U.S. Congress can establish the Smoky Mountains National Park. Serena is now being made into a movie. Rash’s fifth novel, The Cove (2011), is set in the mountains at the time of World War I.
Rash considers himself an Appalachian writer, and his published work typically uses the mountains as a setting. However, his major literary themes and concerns are universal: the nature of evil in human beings, the incessant struggle for certitude despite the chaos of existence, and the tragedy of unfulfilled lives. In an interview, Rash has pointed to a central feature of his fiction and poetry: themes of the topical and temporary (creation of manmade lakes, the deforestation of mountains) are contrasted to the themes of the permanence of nature, as in “a blade of grass or a waterfall” that have universal and timeless appeal. Also central to his work is a vast array of literary influences: Shakespeare, Sophocles, ancient Welsh poetry, Faulkner, Chaucer, and James Dickey, to name a few.
Ron Rash has received the Academy of American Poets Prize, the South Carolina Academy of Authors Poetry Award, the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship, the Sherwood Anderson Award, the O’Henry Prize, the Southern Book Critics Award, and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, among others. In 2010 he was inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors.
Bjerre, Thomas. “Ron Rash’s One Foot in Eden.” Still in Print: The Southern Novel Today. Ed. Jan Nordby Gretlund. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2010.
Lane, John. “The Girl in the River: The Wild and Scenic Chattooga, Ron Rash’s Saints at the River, and the Drowning of Rachel Trois.” South Carolina Review 41 (Fall 2008): 162.
Lang, John, ed. Ron Rash issue. Iron Mountain Review 20 (Spring 2004).