Lee University will welcome New York Times bestselling author and PEN/Faulkner Award finalist Ron Rash for a live reading.
On Oct. 4, Rash will be continuing the Writer’s Festival Series held in the Rose Lecture Hall of the Helen DeVos College of Education at 7 p.m. The reading is free and open to the public and will be followed by a question-and-answer session along with a book signing.
Associate Professor of Creative Writing William Woolfitt said he encourages students and the community to attend the reading, if only to allow their humanity to be strengthened.
“We are so glad that Ron Rash is coming to Lee to give a reading,” said Woolfitt. “He reminds us that stories have the power to deepen our empathy.”
Along with several other works, Rash is the author of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award finalist “Serena.” The bestselling novel was adapted into the 2014 movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper.
Chair of the Department of Language and Literature and Professor of English Donna Summerlin included Rash’s novels in her classes. She said she shared her appreciation of Rash’s ability to write about the issues and culture surrounding the Appalachian Mountains.
“Like a lot of Southern writers, he incorporates a lot of the Southern kind of grotesque, but he brings in a lot of current issues like mining and the timber industry,” Summerlin said. “He puts a lot of emphasis on the social issues in his writing, which is very interesting.”
For Rash, the location plays a huge role in the story he tells. In an interview with Deep South Magazine, Rash said a person's geography affects who they are, especially in the mountains.
"I think, to me, landscape is hugely important. I think landscape can even become destiny at times," Rash said. "I think particularly for mountain people, it can seem both a place that seems sheltering and protective—the mountains protecting someone—but also the way they loom over us, the eons they’ve been there, remind us how insignificant we are."
Professor of English Kevin Brown said Rash has an uncanny ability to relate to the Southern region, pointing to the morality issues in his works.
“Rash writes about our area, situating most of his stories in Western North Carolina and Appalachian culture,” Brown said. “He uses his setting and characters to examine eternal questions about good and evil and the responsibility of all of us to engage in that struggle.”
Brown said he believes Rash to be one of the best Southern writers producing work today. A bulk of that success can be attributed to writing books both accessible to the general public and so well-crafted that they demand serious critical attention, according to Brown.
“Students on our campus will benefit greatly from having the opportunity to read and hear his work, as well as hear what he has to say about writing, especially in the South,” Brown said.
Rash has often said his writing process begins with an image, with the story expanding out from the initial picture in his head into a full-blown story. His view on writing, according to the Deep South Magazine interview, has become much more fluid.
"It always starts with an image," Rash said. "I never outline or plot, I just kind of let the story reveal itself. Then, as I get into the later parts of the novel or draft, it becomes more and more about language and sound."
Bringing such renowned writers like Rash is the driving force behind the Writer's Festival series, according to Woolfitt. As faculty organizer of the Writer's Festival, he said the purpose behind the series is aimed at positively influencing the community.
“There are a couple of purposes for Writer’s Festival events,” Woolfitt said. “One is to share literature with college students and the general public. It’s a way to promote and publicize literature and encourage communities, whether that’s the student community or the broader Cleveland community, to become more interested in reading and become more interested in words and what words can do.”
For more information on the Writer’s Festival or Rash’s reading, contact Woolfitt at firstname.lastname@example.org.