Poet and novelist Ron Rash, who holds the John and Dorothy Parris Distinguished Professorship in Appalachian Cultural Studies at Western Carolina University, is recipient of a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship for 2017.
Announcement of Rash’s inclusion in the diverse group of 173 scholars, artists and scientists from the U.S. and Canada selected for the fellowships was made Friday, April 7, by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
The fellowships are awarded “on the basis of prior achievement and exceptional promise,” the foundation said in announcing the recipients. Honorees were chosen from a group of almost 3,000 applicants in the organization’s 93rd competition.
“It’s exciting to name 173 new Guggenheim Fellows,” said Edward Hirsch, president of the foundation. “These artists and writers, scholars and scientists, represent the best of the best. Each year since 1925, the Guggenheim Foundation has bet everything on the individual, and we’re thrilled to continue to do so with this wonderfully talented and diverse group. It’s an honor to be able to support these individuals to do the work they were meant to do.”
Each of the 2017 recipients will receive a $50,000 award to support his or her work.
“It truly is an honor for me to be chosen for this award, especially because many writers whom I admire have received this award in the past,” said Rash, a resident of Cullowhee. “I am humbled to find myself mentioned alongside the likes of Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood and Raymond Carver.”
Rash came to WCU in 2003 to join the Department of English as the university’s first Parris Distinguished Professor. His latest novel, “The Risen,” hit bookstores last September. He is author of six other novels, including The New York Times bestseller “Serena,” and numerous collections of short stories and poetry.
Richard Starnes, dean of WCU’s College of Arts and Sciences, said the awarding of a fellowship by the Guggenheim Foundation to Rash provides another compelling piece of evidence of the author’s stature on the national and international literary scene.
“Ron Rash is the defining voice in Appalachian literature today, but he is so much more,” Starnes said. “In the tradition of Eudora Welty and William Faulkner, Ron uses his native region to ask profound questions about the complexities of the human heart, man’s relationship with nature, and sense of place. In this way, his work speaks to people everywhere with power and grace.”
A selected list of past Guggenheim winners indicates the level of interdisciplinary prestige the award carries, said Brent Kinser, head of the Department of English, naming composer Aaron Copland (1925); chemist Linus Pauling (1926); and writers Zora Neale Hurston (1936), John Dos Passos (1939), Eudora Welty (1942), Gwendolyn Brooks (1946), Susan Sontag (1966) and Billy Collins (1993), who recently read from his work at Western Carolina’s Spring Literary Festival.
“This recognition by the Guggenheim Foundation is a testament to the work of Ron Rash and to Western Carolina University as it continues to demonstrate its crucial role in the cultural life of the region, the state, the nation and the world,” Kinser said.
The fellowship is the latest in an ever-expanding roster of honors for the native of Boiling Springs. A teacher of poetry, literature and creative writing at WCU, Rash has received an NEA Poetry Fellowship, the Sherwood Anderson Prize, the Novella Festival Novel Award and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and is twice winner of O. Henry awards. His 2015 “Above the Waterfall” was the Prince of Tides Literary Prize Winner in the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance’s 2016 Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize competition.
“Above the Waterfall” also is among the 147 titles in the running for the 2017 International Dublin Literary Award, widely acknowledged as one of the top honors in the publishing world. The work by Rash, along with “Where all Light Tends to Go” by WCU alumnus David Joy, are on the awards’ “longlist” announced last fall. Announcement of the “shortlist” of nominees is expected April 11, with the winner of the award to be revealed June 21.
Over the years, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation has granted more than $350 million in fellowships to more than 18,000 individuals, among whom are scores of Nobel laureates, Fields Medalists, Turing Award winners, poets laureate, members of the various national academies, winners of the Pulitzer Prize and recipients of other important, internationally recognized honors.
This year’s recipients represent 49 scholarly disciplines and artistic fields, 64 academic institutions, 27 states and the District of Columbia, and three Canadian provinces. They range in age from 27 to 79.
The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation was established by U.S. Sen. Simon Guggenheim and his wife, Olga, as a memorial to a son who died April 26, 1922.
Story originally published April 7, 2017.