Mercer to Award 2020 Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature to Appalachian Author Ron Rash

Ron Rash

MACON – Mercer University’s Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies will award the 2020 Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature to poet, short story writer and novelist Ron Rash.

The prize will be presented April 18 at 1 p.m. in the Presidents Dining Room of the University Center on the Macon campus.

“The Lanier Prize is especially meaningful to me because, as a beginning writer, the work of several previous winners was crucial, especially that of Lee Smith, Wendell Berry, Ernest Gaines and Fred Chappell,” said Rash. “Their writing continues to inspire me, and I am honored to join them as a Lanier Prize winner.”

Rash was born in Chester, South Carolina, and earned his undergraduate degree from Gardner-Webb University and master’s degree from Clemson University. He currently serves as John Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Studies in the English Department at Western Carolina University.

“In poetry and prose, Ron Rash depicts the lives and longings of people living precariously in southern Appalachia. His work describes both God and nature as unforgiving, leaving people to struggle and work to survive while they search for brief moments of peace. Rash has made major contributions to the complicated tradition of Southern writing, and the Sidney Lanier Prize committee is proud to present him with the prize in recognition of his work,” said Dr. David A. Davis, chair of the Lanier Prize Committee and associate professor of English at Mercer.

Rash is the author of 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction finalist and New York Times bestseller Serena and Above the Waterfall, in addition to four prizewinning novels, including The Cove, One Foot in Eden, Saints at the River and The World Made Straight.

He has also authored four collections of poems and six collections of stories, among them Burning Bright, which won the 2010 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and Chemistry and Other Stories, which was a finalist for the 2007 PEN/Faulkner Award. He is a two-time recipient of the O. Henry Prize given annually to short stories of exceptional merit.

The Sidney Lanier Prize for Southern Literature, first awarded in 2012, is named for the 19th-century Southern poet born in Macon. Lanier wrote “The Song of the Chattahoochee” and “The Marshes of Glynn.” Using his name recognizes Middle Georgia’s literary heritage and long, often complicated, tradition of writing about the South. The prize is awarded to writers who have engaged and extended that tradition. Past winners include Ernest Gaines (2012), Lee Smith (2013), Elizabeth Spencer (2014), Yusef Komunyakaa (2015), Wendell Berry (2016), Ellen Gilchrist (2017), Natasha Trethewey (2018) and Fred Chappell (2019).

The selection committee for the Lanier Prize includes Mercer professors, eminent scholars of Southern literature and members of the Macon community. In addition to Dr. Davis, the committee includes Bob Brinkmeyer, Emily Brown Jefferies Professor of English at the University of South Carolina; Sharon Colley, professor of English at Middle Georgia State College; Sarah Gardner, Distinguished University Professor of history at Mercer University; Trudier Harris, Distinguished Research Professor of English at the University of Alabama; Barbara Ladd, professor of English at Emory University; Judson Mitcham, former Georgia Poet Laureate; and Pam Thomasson, past president of Historic Macon Foundation.

Dr. Joe Sam Robinson Jr., a widely respected neurosurgeon, and his wife, Betsy, of Macon, made a gift to assist Mercer in meeting a National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant during the 2016-17 reporting year. Their financial commitment created a new endowment, the Thomas McRae Hamilton Robinson Endowment, within the Center for Southern Studies that will support a public reading by the Sidney Lanier Prize winner at the annual presentation of the prize. The endowment honors the memory of their wonderful son Tommy Robinson and significantly enhances literary programming in Middle Georgia by underwriting the event.

Mercer will also award Sidney Lanier Creative Writing Scholarships on April 18. High school juniors with high aptitude for writing may compete for the scholarships, and winners will receive up to $2,000 per year toward the cost of tuition at Mercer. To be eligible, students must complete an application and submit either a work of short fiction of no more than 700 words or two poems totaling no more than 700 words. For more information, contact the Office of Admissions at

About the Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies

The Spencer B. King Jr. Center for Southern Studies fosters critical discussions about the many meanings of the South. As the only center for southern studies in the United States dedicated to the education and enrichment of undergraduate students, the Center’s primary purpose is to examine the region’s complex history and culture through courses, conversations and events that are open, honest and accessible.

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Nadia Pressley