Friday, September 23, 2011

The GDS Writing Program, The Gaslight, and Wiley Cash

Last week, Kristin Paxton-Shaw, GDS Director of Public Relations, forwarded me a voice message from an alum, Wiley Cash, who identified himself as a writer about to have his first novel published, had just received The Gaslight, was impressed with our students writing awards, and wanted to know if there were opportunities for him to interact with our students. Wanting to know more about Wiley, I googled him and discovered that he is someone to be proud of. Wiley graduated from Gaston Day in 1996, received his B.A. from UNC-Asheville, his M.A. in English from UNC-Greensboro, and his Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. He is now an assistant professor of English at Bethany College in West Virginia.

Wiley's first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, will be published by William Morrow/ HarperCollins (one of the finest publishing houses in America) in April, 2012. Leading southern authors, including Clyde Edgerton, Ernest J. Gaines, Bobbie Ann Mason, Gail Godwin, and Fred Chappell are giving Wiley's book enormous, advanced praise. Here is what Fred Chappell, one of the region's most distinguished authors, says, "I try to state the truth and dislike flinging superlatives about with mad abandon, but I have been so deeply impressed by A Land More Kind Than Home that only superlatives can convey the tenor of my thought: it is one of the most powerful novels I have ever read."

After reading that, I decided that I needed to talk to Wiley. So I called him immediately. He was friendly, humble, and funny. He came to Gaston Day as a junior and credits two of our English teachers, Cynthia Furr and Rob Hannah, with initiating his quest to be a writer. According to Wiley, those were the first two adults ever to take him seriously as an intellectual. Now he wants to reconnect with Gaston Day and interact with current Gaston Day student writers. The School is exploring ways to make that happen.

The whole episode has made me proud at three levels. First, I am so proud to discover that Gaston Day has a tradition of writing excellence that reaches back to Wiley's years--one that produced a great new southern writer. Second, I am so proud that we have such a fantastic writing program currently--one that draws a writer like Wiley Cash back to Gaston Day and motivates him to interact with our talented student writers. Finally, I am really proud that The Gaslight is effectively communicating our success and accomplishments to a wider audience of alums and friends.

Stay tuned as the relationship with Wiley Cash grows. Hopefully, he will come to campus in the near future and share his gifts with a new generation of Gaston Day writers--young writers who may someday find the same success as Wiley Cash. Wiley did it, and so can they.