Rash gets second PEN/Faulkner honor – this time for novel ‘Serena’

For the second year in a row, Ron Rash, Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Culture at Western Carolina University, has been named one of four finalists for the PEN/Faulkner Award, the largest peer-juried prize for fiction in the United States.

The honor comes to Rash in recognition of his latest novel “Serena,” which was published by HarperCollins in October. Rash was named a PEN/Faulkner finalist in 2008 for his compilation of short stories, “Chemistry and Other Stories.”

The names of this year’s PEN/Faulker winner and four finalists were announced recently after contest judges reviewed about 350 novels and short story collections written by American authors and published during 2008. Winner Joseph O’Neill, author of the novel “Netherland,” will receive a $15,000 prize, while Rash and the other three finalists receive $5,000 each. All five authors will be honored in a ceremony on Saturday, May 9, at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

“Serena,” Rash’s fourth novel, tells the story of timber baron George Pemberton and his ruthless wife, Serena, who come to the North Carolina mountains to create a timber empire. The book drew widespread praise from critics across the nation after its release last fall. A New York Times reviewer complimented Rash’s “elegantly fine-tuned voice” and listed the book as one of her 10 favorites of 2008, and “Serena” made the “best of 2008” lists of Publishers Weekly, The Christian Science Monitor, The Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle. The book also was No. 7 in online retailer Amazon’s list of the 100 best books of the year.

Rash wrote three books of poetry and two short story collections before transitioning to writing a series of award-winning novels, and he learned recently that his fiction piece, “Into the Gorge,” will appear in the 2009 edition of “The Best American Short Stories.” The story was originally published in The Southern Review.

A native of Boiling Springs, Rash teaches Appalachian literature and creative writing at WCU. He is currently preparing his next work, a collection of short stories, for publication.