2020 WCU Interdisciplinary Innovations Conference: An interview with author and Professor Ron Rash

This year, the fourth annual Interdisciplinary Innovations Conference held by Western Carolina University was carried out in a different yet unique way. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, those who submitted proposals to this year’s theme of interdisciplinary conversations on water had to do so virtually, and those that were accepted and chosen to present, presented virtually as well.

The conference’s key speaker this year was Ron Rash, author of the best-selling book “Serena,” as well as a distinguished professor of English at Western Carolina University. In an interview posted to this year’s conference web page, Rash spoke on the literary use of water in several of his works.

Several questions were given to Ron Rash, with the first regarding how his relationship with water has affected his writing. Rash’s response was that he never realized how prevalent water was in much of his writing until others pointed it out to him, and he relayed that water has always been a constant in his life, through the area in which he grew up. Rash explained that water was so important to writers because of its ability to give and take life, making it the ultimate literal and figural paradox.

A later question given to Rash asked for his opinion on corporations and their impact on water/the environment. Rash spoke about how art can relay the severity of human cost on the environment. He gave an example of Duke Power creating a reservoir for hydroelectric power and how, on the surface, it could impact the environment and humans positively, but realistically, it can result in situations like the displacement of people, as seen in his novel “One Foot in Eden.”

Yet another question given to Ron Rash was what he thought the hardest part of writing a local setting and its water into his novels was. “I’d like to think I’m a very visual writer. I want my readers to be plunged into the river through my writing. The hardest part is maintaining the necessity of a balance between the natural world and the human condition through my writing,” said Rash of his works.

At the end of the interview Rash, read several passages of his writings that connected to the theme of water and how it is used in the literary world. Rash read from his novel, “Saints at the River,” about the traumatic drowning of a child in the Chattahoochee River due to the hydraulic pressure and suction under the water. He explained the juxtaposition of the beauty of nature yet, the unassuming danger of it.

To watch the interview with Ron Rash, or read and view the presentations give at this year’s Interdisciplinary Innovations Conference, visit here.