CULLOWHEE – While the 1,600 or so students who comprise Western Carolina University’s freshman class have yet to receive their first grades as college students, the professor who wrote their first required reading assignment is earning high marks for his latest project.
Ron Rash, who teaches in the English department at Western and holds the university’s John and Dorothy Parris Professorship of Appalachian Cultural Studies, is winning rave reviews for his second novel, “Saints at the River,” including a mark of B+ in the Aug. 6 issue of the national publication Entertainment Weekly.
The superior grades for Rash’s latest work come as a new crop of Western students gets ready to talk about his debut novel, “One Foot in Eden,” the 2004 Freshman Reading Program selection. Through the program, now in its sixth year at Western, new freshmen each summer receive a copy of a book selected by a university committee. Students are expected to read the book over the summer, and discuss it and write about the book as it is incorporated into their fall semester studies.
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Rash will deliver the keynote address when members of Western’s freshman class come together for their first taste of the pomp and circumstance of university academic life – freshman convocation. The students-only event will begin at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 25, in the Ramsey Regional Activity Center.
A murder mystery set in a small Appalachian town, “One Foot in Eden” unfolds over the course of several years. The tale is told from five points of view against the backdrop of a power company’s plans to flood a mountain valley.
Several other activities related to Rash’s book are part of new student orientation sessions planned for the opening of the school year, including a hiking trip to Whitewater Falls so that students can view the setting for the book, a slide presentation in Western’s Mountain Heritage Center about the damming of Hazel Creek and creation of Fontana Lake, and a murder mystery game.
“One Foot in Eden” won the 2003 Appalachian Writers Association Book of the Year Award, and Foreword Magazine’s Gold Medal for Best Literary Novel of 2002.
Rash came to Western last year from the University of South Carolina, where he served as visiting writer in the graduate creative writing program. As Western’s first Parris Professor of Appalachian Cultural Studies, he has helped set up a series of performances, readings and lectures that highlight mountain culture.