July 14, 2011

Shann Ray and American Masculine

Today, I wanted to introduce you all to Shann Ray (if you don’t already know him). I first heard about him when he won the 2010 Bread Loaf Bakeless prize. I saw that he grew up in Lame Deer on the Cheyenne Reservation in Montana. That’s where my sister Nikki has been an ER nurse for 30 years, so I sent Shann a note of congratulations.

Here’s his bio from his website

Poet and prose writer Shann Ray Ferch’s collection of stories, AMERICAN MASCULINE, was selected for the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference prestigious Katherine Bakeless Nason Literary Publication Prize and appears with Graywolf Press. He is also the author of Forgiveness and Power in the Age of Atrocity (forthcoming with Rowman & Littlefield), and The Spirit of Servant Leadership co-edited with Larry Spears (Paulist Press). Ferch, who writes poetry and prose under Shann Ray in honor of his mother Saundra Rae, played college basketball at Montana State University and Pepperdine University and professional basketball in Germany. He now lives with his wife and three daughters in Spokane, Washington where he teaches leadership and forgiveness studies at Gonzaga University.

Born and raised in Montana, Ray’s powerful, graceful writing considers the nature of humanity with regard to violence and forgiveness. He holds a dual MFA in poetry and fiction from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University, a Masters in clinical psychology from Pepperdine, and a PhD in systems psychology from the University of Alberta in Canada. He has served as a research psychologist for the Centers for Disease Control and as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Humanities.

His stories and poems have appeared in some of America’s top literary venues including McSweeney’s, StoryQuarterly, Poetry International, Northwest Review, Narrative, Best New Poets and William and Mary Review. Ray is the winner of the subTerrain Poetry Prize, the Crab Creek Review Fiction Award, the Pacific Northwest Inlander Short Story Contest, the Ruminate Short Story Prize, and the Creative Writing Distinguished Alumni Award from Eastern Washington University. His work was selected as a notable story in Best American Nonrequired Reading and anthologized in The Better of McSweeney’s, Vol. 2. His influences include Sandra Alcosser, Claire Davis, Milan Kundera, James Welch, A.B. Guthrie, William Kittredge, Richard Hugo, Richard Ford, Katerina Rudcenkova, and Mary Oliver.

Shann’s father was a basketball coach, and Shann and his older brother Kral are legendary in Montana high school and college basketball. To see some absolutely amazing footage of he and Kral’s dunking, go here (first they talk about Shann's father Tom, and then at about 4:00 they start showing the amazing footage).

But what is so amazing is Shann’s writing. It is brutal ~ and I do mean brutal ~ yet lyrical. You can tell he is a poet, in addition to being a fiction writer. His stories are very dark and violent. Given that my stories are generally pretty dark too, reading his elicits the same sort of deep anguish I get as I write ~ and I’m sure I’m not the only one. But it’s cathartic, and there are small moments of such tenderness. It’s the broken world of a man’s West busted open there on the page. I can’t tell you how much it moves me yet gives me nightmares. And that’s a good thing.  He reminds me of Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, Jim Harrison, and Thom Jones.

You’ll have to read it for yourself. Please, I urge you to buy American Masculine today. But in the meantime, here is a story “Before Sand Creek” that appeared on NewWest (a fabulous site - stay and browse for awhile). Here is “The Great Divide,” which appeared in The Better of McSweeneys, Vol. 2, and is the second story in American Masculine.

So, for your own sake, read Shann Ray.

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