[(essay date 2016) In the following interview, conducted in June 2015, Rash discusses his writing process, stylistic choices, and his literary education in relation to his own body of short fiction.]
In fall 2014, Ecco, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, released a selection of short stories by Ron Rash, who is advertised on the cover as the “bestselling author of Serena.” The book is entitled Something Rich and Strange, echoing the title of a story first published in Shade 2004 and reprinted as part of Nothing Gold Can Stay—a Shakespearian title that, while evoking transformation and change, is full of promises and carefully avoids elucidating its object. A novelist and a poet, Ron Rash is also the author of five short story collections that were published over the now twenty years of his career as a published writer: his first collection, The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth [The Night the New Jesus Fell to Earth and Other Stories from Cliffside, North Carolina], appeared in 1994; his latest, Nothing Gold Can Stay, in 2013. In the meantime, Rash has been the recipient of prestigious awards such as the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the O. Henry Prize (which he obtained twice) and the Sherwood Anderson Prize. He was also twice a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. Ecco published his sixth novel, Above the Waterfall, in September 2015.
The publication of Something Rich and Strange, a volume of selected stories seemed to be the perfect moment to ask Ron Rash about his perception of the short story—a genre he holds in high regard; about his practice as a short fiction writer; about the writers that he likes and that may have inspired him; about his personal stylistic and aesthetic choices, the narrative constraints he imposes upon himself and his recurring motifs, let alone obsessions, as a fiction writer.
Something Rich and Strange is made of thirty-four short stories, most of which were previously published both individually and in one of Rash’s five earlier collections (three had never been collected before). As such, it is representative of Rash’s art as a short fiction writer and of its evolution. As Janet Maslin put it in her New York Times review of the volume, “as with great music, it would be a mistake not to revisit this material because you’ve experienced it once.”1 While showing great variety in form, plot, atmosphere, time and characterization, and demonstrating Rash’s experimentation with viewpoint and focalization, the stories collected in Something Rich and Strange present an extraordinary unity, part of which is certainly due to the writer’s exceptionally vivid sense of place, most of which derives from the sheer power of his signature.
Ron Rash, who is remarkably generous with his time and quite eager to talk about literature in general and to comment on his own personal choices as a writer, agreed to answer my questions about his poetics as a short story writer. Our conversation took place over the phone...