Small Talk: Ron Rash

Born in South Carolina, US, in 1953, Ron Rash published his first book, a collection of short stories called The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth, in 1994. Five novels, short stories and four volumes of poetry followed. Burning Bright won the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award; Serena (2008), a novel, became a New York Times Book of the Year. Rash is married with two children and lives in the Appalachian Mountains.

Who is your perfect reader?

It would have to be my brother, who is also my first editor. Siblings don’t have to be nice to you.

What is the last thing you read that made you laugh out loud?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson.

What book changed your life?

I read Crime and Punishment when I was 15. Until then I had felt that I had always entered the book; it was the first book that entered me.

When did you know you were going to be a writer?

It haunts you all your life whether you’re a great writer or not. I was in my late twenties when I decided to commit and risk failure.

Where do you write best?

By the fire with my two dogs.

What is the strangest thing you’ve done when researching a book?

I learnt how to hunt rattlesnakes with an eagle for Serena.

What do you snack on while you write?

I’m ritualistic. I have up to three 44oz-cups of iced tea.

Which literary character most resembles you?

Benjy in William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.

Who are your literary influences?

Dostoyevsky is at the top of the list. Faulkner came from my region and taught me how you could write about a place. As I get older I find myself thinking it all begins with Shakespeare.

Who would you like to be stuck in a lift with?

Samuel Johnson. He was so utterly human. He’d be a great guy to hang out with.

What are you scared of?

Losing my ability to judge my work – writers tend to as they get older.

If you could own any painting, what would it be?

My father gave me the middle name Vincent, after Van Gogh, so it would have to be his Sunflowers.

How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?

It’s very difficult to imagine. I wouldn’t mind being a track and field coach.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

The Appalachians. It’s not just that I feel at home but that this is the place that marked me: my family has been here for more than 200 years – unusual in America.

Can you remember the first novel you read?

The Call of the Wild by Jack London, my most memorable childhood read.

What does it mean to be a writer?

It’s a gift. It’s the joy of being able to imagine yourself as someone else; and it’s the freedom to be able to do that every day.

Ron Rash’s latest novel is ‘The Cove’ (Canongate)

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