HarperCollins Speakers Bureau

Ron Rash

Award-winning Author, Poet, and Short Story Writer


  • The Influence of Appalachia in Ron Rash's Literature


South Carolina

Ron Rash is a New York Times best-selling author, PEN/Faulkner finalist, two-time winner of the O. Henry Prize, and winner of the James Still Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers. A son of Buncombe and Watauga County natives, Rash was raised in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, and his family has lived in the southern Appalachian Mountains since the mid-1700s. Rash made his first serious attempt at creative writing as a student at Gardner-Webb University and then Clemson University. Since then, his love and deep appreciation for the Southern Appalachians has launched him into a spectacular literary career. He wrote three collections of poetry and two collections of short stories before transitioning to writing a series of critically acclaimed and award-winning novels. A popular keynote speaker at universities, libraries, and community reading events, Rash discusses Appalachia's influences on his writing, the most recent of which is the critically acclaimed novel The Cove (Ecco), the story of a German prisoner who escapes an internment camp in North Carolina and the woman who saves his life.

The Cove follows Laurel Shelton and her brother Hank, who are living out on farmland in the shadow of a deep cove the locals say is cursed. Laurel is born with a large birthmark that neighbors take as a sign of witchery. Hank loses an arm while serving overseas in WW I. When Hank falls in love with a woman who refuses to live there, Hank secretly plans to leave his sister behind. But Laurel's fate is forever altered when she comes upon a stranger in the woods one day, a stranger she saves from a near-fatal accident. With only a simple haversack of worldly belongings, including his treasured flute and a note explaining that he is mute and bound for New York, the stranger slowly insinuates himself into life in the Cove, helping Hank on the farm, playing his ethereal music in the long twilit evenings, and, eventually, bringing Laurel the only real happiness she has ever known. But when Laurel stumbles onto his real identity, she realizes the profound danger they are in, not only from men like Chauncey Feith, an army recruiter determined to show his mettle by stoking fear and outrage over all things German (harassing an aging language professor at the nearby college, purging the library of any suspect foreign material), but also from her own brother, Hank, whose rage at the enemy who maimed him is barely contained beneath his placid surface.

Rash's book,  Above the Waterfall (Ecco), is a haunting tale set against the backdrop of contemporary Appalachia about lives shaped by violence, passion, and a powerful connection to the land. Les, a small-town sheriff nearing retirement, battles daily with meth-addicted locals and rural poverty in a tight-knit Appalachian town full of secrets.Becky, a park ranger and recent newcomer who harbors a violent past, finds solace in the sanctuary of poetry and nature. But when someone commits a vicious crime, both Becky and Les must grapple with the ramifications of an act that turns neighbor against neighbor. In his most masterfully lyrical novel yet, Rash echoes the lapsarian beauty of Faulkner and demonstrates once again why The New York Times' Janet Maslin calls him “one of the best American novelists of his day,” and Richard Price deems him “a gorgeous, brutal writer.”

In Poems (Ecco), the incandescent, profound, and accessible forthcoming collection, Rash vividly channels the rhythms of life in Appalachia, deftly capturing the panoply of individuals who are its heart and soul—men and women inured to misfortune and hard times yet defined by tremendous fortitude, resilience, and a fierce sense of community. With an eye for the surprising and vivid detail, Rash powerfully captures the sorrows and exaltations of this wondrous world he knows intimately. Illuminating and indelible, Poems demonstrates his rich talents and confirms his legacy as a standard-bearer for the literature of the American South.

Rash is also the author of the 2010 Frank O'Conor International Short Story Award winner Burning Bright, a collection that caputures Appalachia's eerie beauty and stark violence through the lived of his unforgettable characters. His 2009 PEN/Faulkner finalist and New York Times best-selling novel, Serena (Ecco), is currently being made into a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. Listed as Amazon's #2 Book of the Year at the time of publication, Serena is a gothic tale of greed, corruption, and revenge set against the backdrop of the 1930s wilderness and America's burgeoning environmental movement. Rash has written three other prize-winning novels, One Foot in Eden, Saints at the River, and The World Made Straight; three collections of poems; and three collections of stories, among them Chemistry and Other Stories, which was a finalist for the 2007 PEN/Faulkner Award.

He joined the faculty of Western Carolina University in 2003, coming back to his family's homeland in the mountains, where he currently serves as the Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Studies.

Praise for The Cove:

"Mr. Rash's writing is so richly atmospheric...[he] can make words take wing.... A breathless sequence of events lead the book to its devastating final sentence. And that sentence affirms Mr. Rash's reputation for writerly miracles."
-- Janet Maslin, New York Times

"A gently beautiful new novel...Rash, a native of Appalachia, has written a southern tragedy, with a self-consciously Shakespearean structure and economy.... [A] powerful novel, with some of the mysterious moral weight of Carson McCullers, along with a musical voice that belongs to Rash alone."
-- USA Today

"This book ranks among the best backwoods fiction since 2006's Winter's Bone.... [A] gripping novel...[not] just an elegant work of literary fiction, written in a voice that's hauntingly simple and Southern; it's also a riveting mystery."
-- Entertainment Weekly, Grade: A

"Rash is particularly good at capturing the hazy space where otherworldly phantoms mingle with plain old human meanness...Rash never lays down a dull or clunky line...at the very end...these pages ignite, and suddenly we're racing through a conflagration of violence that no one seems able to control except Rash."
-- Washington Post

"In Rash's skilled hands, even farm chores take on a meditative beauty."
-- People

"Set during World War One, The Cove is a novel that speaks intimately to today's politics. Beautifully written, tough, raw, uncompromising, entirely new. Ron Rash is a writer's writer who writes for others."
-- Colum McCann

"Ron Rash is a writer of both the darkly beautiful and the sadly true; The Cove solidifies his reputation as one of our very finest novelists."
-- Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls

Praise for Burning Bright:

"Ron Rash was the seasoned author of nine books of fiction and poetry before his 10th, the stunning 2008 Serena, established him as one of the best American novelists of his day. With its stark Appalachian setting, piercing language and coolly ferocious title character, Serena was a big book filled with bleakly beautiful details. Mr. Rash's artistry was blinding enough to eclipse his craftsmanship. But the skill with which his tales are constructed is more apparent in Burning Bright ... these paired down short stories make it much easier to see how expertly Mr. Rash fine-tunes his work ... elegantly sophisticated work ... enormously effective ... another instance of Mr. Rash's tactical precision ... Mr. Rash certainly knows how to rivet attention."
-- The New York Times

"For the past 15 years, Ron Rash has been carving out a position as one of the best writers in America writing about Appalachia ... a fascinating place for a writer to inhabit. This is what Rash does best, and his reputation is assured with his latest story collection, Burning Bright ... 'The Ascent' is a heartbreakingly simple tale ... but it still plows right into you ... Burning Bright is raw, honest and assured, the work of a talented writer. His characters fight through their tiny lives, proud and indomitable, like the land itself."
-- San Francisco Chronicle

"Ron Rash brings his poet's eye to an unforgiving world in Burning Bright, a finely crafted, understated collection of 12 stories ... Rash doesn't need much to tell a story -- in fact, emptiness brings out the best in him. Rash writes the way the old bluegrass musicians sing: in a stark, high-lonesome voice capturing the yearning and despair of characters who have lost almost everything but their pride ... In these spare and haunting stories Rash restores the humanity that trumps the meanness in this world. It may be a thin shard of hope, but it still burns bright."
-- Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Praise for Serena:

"A tightly knit tale of industrial development, greed, and betrayal ... Rash's evocative rendering of the blighted landscape and the tough characters who inhabit it recalls both John Steinbeck and Cormac McCarthy."
-- The New Yorker

"Generate[s] ripple after ripple of astonishment."
-- The New York Times

"A harrowing tour de force."
-- Huffington Post

"Serena is that publishing rarity: It will please readers who cherish both plot and prose."
-- Cleveland Plain Dealer

"Masterfully written."
-- San Francisco Chronicle

"Flawless and captivating."
-- Washington Post Book World

"Beautifully written, utterly unforgettable. To my mind, this novel, as powerful and inexorable as a thunderstorm, is as good a piece of fiction as was published last year and a new classic in the category of love gone terribly wrong."
-- The Daily Beast