Anderson University recently welcomed New York Times bestselling author Ron Rash to campus as part of the annual Mims Lecture Series. Students, faculty and local literature enthusiasts filled Chapman Multimedia Classroom in Thrift Library on March 19 to hear Rash read selections of his fiction and poetry.
“This series is vital because it allows students to hear a living writer,” Rash said. “In college, that meant a lot to me, and I hope that it meant something to students tonight too. In an age of technology, exposure to literature is important.”
The audience was captivated by Rash’s vivid depictions of rural life and his skillfully-crafted characters as he read his work aloud in his distinct Appalachian dialect.
“Reading a Ron Rash book is like floating down a mountain stream: expect some quiet pools and gentle ripples, but look out—around the corner will be rapids that will sweep you away and have you hanging on for life,” said Dr. Bob Hanley, Chair of the English Department in the Anderson University College of Arts and Sciences.
In addition to Rash, this year’s Mims Lecture Series speakers also included Dr. Frederique Spill, a native of France, whose area of specialty is southern American literature, and poet Jesse Graves, known for his own unique way of capturing the Southern world, its people and its places.
The Mims Lecture Series has a long-standing history of bringing accomplished writers to campus. The tradition honors the legacy of one of AU’s own writers, Dr. Francis Mims. Dr. Mims was a long-time faculty member and chair of the English Department, and she was a distinguished poet who had three volumes of poems published: “Buy Hyacinths” (1973), “Jeannie” (1974), and “Quaint House” (2012).
“Dr. Mims had a passion for literature. She believed that our students should have the experience of hearing great writers here on our own campus,” Dr. Hanley said. “With that goal in mind, she brought many outstanding novelists and poets to share their works and to visit with our students. Such notable authors included James Dickey, Ernest Gaines, Gwendolyn Brooks and Rick Bass, to name a few. To commemorate Dr. Mims’ legacy of bring outstanding writers to campus, the Mims Lecture series was begun and continues today.”
Rash is a significant name in this growing list of visiting writers. His work has been taught in some of AU’s English classes, giving English students an opportunity to meet a writer they have studied in class.
Dr. Hanley said that having such writers as part of the Mims Lecture series provides inspiration to AU’s own novice writers.
“Our students not only hear the power of great writing read by those who produced it but they also get an inside glimpse of how these writers developed their craft form a beginning writer to a bestselling author,” he said.
“I appreciated hearing other writers’ perspectives—especially from accomplished authors like Ron Rash—because I still have so much to learn,” said Jacob Cavett, a senior with a double major in English (creative writing and digital media communications).
As always, the Mims Lecture Series was well-received and valued by the AU literary community. The event drew a large audience, and many students lingered to personally speak with Rash, Dr. Spill and Graves and to have books signed after the reading. The visiting writers also attended a few English classes during their time at AU.
“It was a pleasure to be able to bring to campus these fascinating writers and scholars. The Mims Lecture Series is an important vehicle for introducing Anderson University students, staff and faculty to literary artists in a real time interactive performance designed for both learning and community building,” said Dr. Wilhelm, a professor of English at AU and editor of “The Ron Rash Reader” (USC Press 2014) and co-editor of “Summoning the Dead: Essays on Ron Rash” (USC Press 2018).
“This year's speakers were a treasure, and we look forward to bringing more writers to campus next year.”