Ron Rash is the author of the new book Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories, which collects some of his best work from over the years. His many other books include the novel Serena and the story collections Burning Bright and Chemistry and Other Stories. He teaches at Western Carolina University.
Q: Your stories are centered on Appalachia, but cover a variety of time periods, from the Civil War to the present day. Do you have a particular time period that you prefer to write about?
A: One way I see time is as a kind of geography. Even though I’m writing about the same place, I’m able to go into different sensibilities because of the eras. I’m writing essential parts of what it means to be a human being.
There’s not necessarily a specific time that’s a favorite…I enjoy the fluidity.
Q: How did you pick the stories to include in this new book?
A: I’ve been writing short stories for about 40 years. I went back through everything I’ve written, about 100 stories, and picked the ones I felt the best about. There are three new ones in there.
I tried to put them in an order that [gives the reader] an experience beyond reading single stories. There is a rhythm working through time, and a rhythm working through more tragic and more humorous [stories]. That movement can give the reader a sense of being in this place beyond an individual story. It’s like a quilt…
Q: Do you see particular themes running through the whole collection?
A: I tend to put characters in tough situations. Those are the moments, as in real life, where character is revealed. They are moments that are interesting to the reader—they tend to be dramatic—but they are moments of revelation of character….
Q: How was the book’s title, "Something Rich and Strange" (also the title of one of the stories), selected?
A: It comes from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Ariel the sprite talks about…“Full fathom five, thy father lies”; it ends with [Ariel] saying that it’s not so much that [the character’s father] is dead, but that he’s turned into “something rich and strange.”
Art can take tragic events, the darker parts of being alive, and yet you hope the reader feels not just the darkness, but the sublime. Art gives us this painful pleasure sometimes. It’s like when you read a Shakespeare play, or a Faulkner novel…[there’s] a kind of beauty.
Q: You’ve also written novels and poetry, in addition to short stories. Do you have a preference?
A: Short stories are my favorite form, and my favorite form to read as well. They’re America’s great contribution to world literature, going back to Poe.
They’re also the hardest. You have to bring everything you bring to a poem, the concision, every word in the right place, and [make sure] the reader leaves satisfied. When it works, when I read an Annie Proulx or Flannery O’Connor story, it’s pretty amazing…
Q: What are you working on now?
A: A new novel, Above the Waterfall. It will be out next fall. It’s a book about wonder. As a writer, an artist has to acknowledge the beauty of the world as well as [the other side].
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I think one thing is that I believe what Eudora Welty once said. There’s a misconception that because someone writes about a particular place, they’re just a regional writer. Eudora Welty says that one place understood helps us understand all other places better.
It’s in no way limiting. [I enjoy reading] James Joyce, or Richard Price, who’s focused on New York City. I don’t see that as in any way limiting. The best way to get to the universal is through the particular.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb