Event: Something Rich and Strange — A Reading with Ron Rash
When: Wednesday, November 5, 2014 @ 7 PM
Where: Flyleaf Bookstore, Chapel Hill, NC
Last Wednesday evening, before he read from his new collection of selected short stories, Ron Rash already had the rapt attention of his audience. Tall and slender with pale blue eyes, he stood at the podium in front of a full house and told us the title of the story (and consequently the book) he was going to read from, “Something Rich and Strange,” came from a verse in Shakespeare’s, The Tempest, and then recited it from memory:
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell […]
Rash is interested in the netherworld between life and death, and the mystery we undergo as we make the transition from this world to that world. “As I get older,” Rash said, “wonder is increasingly more important.” He wrote the story some fifteen years ago and was inspired by the Celtic belief that “water’s a conduit between living and dead.” In the story a girl drowns and from there Rash quietly explores and reveals the in between realm.
A craftsman with an acute sense of pace and rhythm, Rash has an appreciation for the sound of words (he is also a poet and admitted to adding “a syllable to a word” while he read), and creates seamless transitions from one movement in the story to the next. But the real wonder captured by Rash’s skill is how he makes the supernatural accessible, at once ordinary and extraordinary. Maybe it was the lilt of his southern accent married with the haunting images in the water of the girl’s “flowing golden hair,” “the blue rubbed from her eyes, flesh freed from the chandelier of bone,” but it was impossible not to be drawn into the world Rash created.
After he read, the audience was as quiet as if we were still mesmerized by the scene underwater. The prolonged silence induced a “The End” (or did he say, “That’s it”?) from Rash. Hands then clapped and began to rise, and we learned a bit more about the author.
A writer and teacher, Rash said he doesn’t like to think about teaching creativity—he thinks of himself more “as a cheerleader” than a teacher. When asked what one piece of advice he’d give to fiction writers, he replied, “Read, read, read. Read the best.” He claimed that’s how he learned. And he didn’t mean just read fiction. He pointed out how reading poetry made him a better fiction writer. “Every good prose writer I know reads poetry,” he said. Poetry helps a writer “learn concision and vividness.” He starts all his fiction classes with a poem. He also always has his class read, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” by Flannery Connor. She is, of course, one of the best. We here at TSHS happen to think Ron Rash is too. Check out his new collection and decide for yourself.