The University of South Carolina Upstate welcomed acclaimed author Ron Rash to campus on Thursday, Sept. 14.
Rash, a native of Chester, S.C., who grew up in Western North Carolina, has written 20 books, including “One Foot in Eden,” which was the common read for the university’s first-year reading and writing program Preface.
The program, supported by S.C. Humanities, combines guided reading with special events and discussions. And while Preface is geared toward first-year students, it includes a variety of events that are open to all students, faculty, staff, and the community. Rash’s session, entitled “Raising the Dead: Resurrecting Lost Lives and Lost Places,” was the first of 11 that will be held through November 15.
Here, Rash discusses his writing process with USC Upstate.
USC Upstate: Your novel, “One Foot in Eden,” was selected as the reading for this year’s Preface First-Year Reading and Writing Program at USC Upstate. What themes or messages from the book do you hope will resonate most with the university’s first-year students and why?
Ron Rash: One of the characters (in the book), Amy, is around their age. I think some of the decisions she must make are some of the same that they would have to consider. You know, “if I were in the same situation, what would I do?” I hope they will learn a little something about the history of the Upstate of South Carolina. I think the story of the people of Jocassee is something that is relevant to anyone… Every writer wants more readers. You always hope that once they get into it, they will really enjoy it.
USC Upstate: Can you share some insights into your creative process when writing “One Foot in Eden?” Were there specific inspirations or experiences that influenced the development of the story and its characters?
RR: My first teaching job after I graduate from Clemson was at Tamassee-Salem High School. I taught some of the students whose family had been in that valley. I thought it was a story that needed to be told.
USC Upstate: In your works, including “One Foot in Eden,” the Appalachian region often plays a central role. How does this setting contribute to the atmosphere and storytelling in your novels? Why is it significant to you as an author?
RR: My family has been in the North Carolina mountains since the 1700s. That is what really draws me to it. I think, particularly with southern Appalachia, there are so many stereotypes about the people. I’ve written 20 books now and they’ve been translated into 17 languages… Appalachian culture is very distinctive. Tragedy, loss, love. Their concerns are universal. I also wanted to help preserve the dialect of the region—the manners of speech. Hopefully, anyone who reads this can see the poetry in the language, the use of similes and metaphors. (The characters) are not highly educated but have a really gifted ability to use language.
USC Upstate: Many of your books, including “One Foot in Eden,” feature complex and morally ambiguous characters. What draws you to explore the complexities of human nature in your writing, and how do you approach crafting such characters?
RR: I start with t0he assumption that every individual has an interesting and complex life; that they are complex people. It’s like real life, where sometimes people around us surprise us. I work hard to avoid simple stereotypes. If I’ve done my job well, the reader will not condescend to these characters (even the villains). We all have rich inner lives and must make complex choices… I also don’t want to sentimentalize my characters… When I demonize or sentimentalize characters, I dehumanize them.
USC Upstate: “One Foot in Eden” weaves together elements of mystery, family drama, and environmental concerns. How do you balance these different aspects in your storytelling, and what do you hope readers take away from the novel’s multifaceted narrative?
RR: The most important thing sometimes, and we don’t talk about this enough, a novel does a lot of things. One of the things we want it to do is to give us pleasure. I hope any time I write a novel, the reader would walk away with a real sense of pleasure. That it’s enjoyable for them to read.
Written by USC Upstate.