Salvation South editor Chuck Reece introduces you to—or at least reminds you about—one of the South’s greatest writers, Ron Rash. In this week's commentary, Chuck explains why you should pay attention to Ron’s novels, short stories, and poems because they will teach you how to pay attention to details in life.

Author Ron Rash

Author Ron Rash and David Joy at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina

Credit: Courtesy of Salvation South and WCU

“Most folks stay in the dark and then complain they can’t see nothing.”

Now we Southern folks have a fondness for sharp, crafty sayings like that one. When we tell stories about a favorite grandma or papaw or aunty, we will pull out their quips as evidence of how astute they were.

But the one I just read to you doesn’t come from one of my forebears. It comes from a book by Ron Rash, a Carolina writer. Ron just turned 70 years old, and he has published eight novels, seven collections of short stories, and five collections of poetry.

Now and again, I like to take this time I share with y’all on Fridays to tell you about a Southerner whose work I think you ought to pay attention to. And Ron qualifies. A few years ago, Janet Maslin, who reviewed book and movies for The New York Times for almost 40 years, called Ron — and I quote — “one of the best living American writers.”

I love Ron’s writing for how well he portrays the people of Southern Appalachia. It’s not just how deeply he understands folks from the mountains where he grew up, it’s that Ron knows — and I don’t know how else to say this — everything about them. All the details.  He knows the names of all the plants in the woods they walk through. How the old-timers catch trout in the creeks that run through mountains. How the smell of a certain soap reminds somebody of their grandma. I guess what I’m saying is this: I love Ron Rash because he pays attention. Some folks say that the devil is in the details but I say the angels live there, too.

Think about the places and people you love. How you might recall the way someone’s hair fell across their forehead 40 years ago. Or how the north wind always smells when you stand on a certain hilltop in the springtime.

Ron Rash published a novel back in 2015 called, Above the Waterfall. And in that book you hear a preacher in a country church deliver a sermon. Let me read you just a bit of that.

“Some claim heaven has streets of gold and all such things but I hold a different notion. When we're there we’ll say to the angels, ‘why, a lot of heaven’s glory is in the place we come from’ and you know what them angels will say? They’ll say, ‘yes pilgrim, and how often did you notice?”

How often did you notice? That’s an important question. The best gift you can give somebody you love is to close your own mouth for a while and pay attention to what they have to say. And one of the best gifts you can give to yourself is to pay attention to the details of the places and things that you love. When you pay close attention to the details, the memories you hold onto get richer. Ron Rash understands that better than almost anyone I know.  

Come to to read a great interview that our contributor Marianne Leek Ann did recently with Ron.

Salvation South editor Chuck Reece comments on Southern culture and values in a weekly segment that airs Fridays at 7:45 a.m. during Morning Edition and 4:44 p.m. during All Things Considered on GPB Radio. He also does an extended version of the podcast called Salvation South Deluxe each month. You can also find them here at and please download and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform as well.