Ross followed a career in academic fund-raising, public relations, book publishing, and marketing after receiving his MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1978. He’s now freelancing non-fiction and fiction, and teaching at Elon University. He lives in Greensboro, NC, with his wife, Mary Leigh, English cocker spaniel diva, Pinot, and rescued pit bull Lab mix Sam.
Since I’m teaching freshman writing at Elon University these days, The Norton Reader: An Anthology of Nonfiction (13th ed.) is never far from the bed. The first essay we read was George Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language;” always useful for lessons in concision and word choice, and instructive to teenagers voting in their first national election. Great essays abound in The Norton Reader, including “Belly, Dancing, Belly, Aching, Belly, Beasts” by our esteemed Jane Smiley, along with works by other luminaries like William Zinsser, Joan Didion, John McPhee, Annie Dillard, Nicholas Carr, Anna Quindlen, and more.
Also by the bed is I Am One of You Forever, a novel by Fred Chappell. This wonderful little book is filled with scenes I remember and country folk I grew up around, and is written with truth, magic, and humor. Chappell grew up on a small farm in North Carolina and has published no fewer than eight novels, two story collections, and numerous volumes of poetry. He taught at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for more than four decades and was the Poet Laureate of North Carolina 1997-2002. His work has received the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Bollingen Award, the Aiken Taylor Award, and the Best Foreign Book Prize from the Academie Française. I first heard his name in Peter Taylor’s writing class at the University of Virginia; Taylor had taught with Chappell at UNCG back in the day.
Finally, on the laptop I sometimes carry to bed is a PDF file of an unpublished, autobiographical manuscript written by one of the characters in the historical novel I’m writing. Born into slavery, he escaped to freedom in 1863. The story of the escape, told in his own words, is far more compelling and significant than anything I could invent. There was only one disappointment. Newspaper accounts had remarked that he was blind. Family lore confirms the fact. An attorney, he was usually escorted to court by a clerk, who led him by the arm. Yet I had been unable to discover anything about how the disability occurred. I was convinced the manuscript would solve the mystery. Not so. The character’s only comment: “In 1896 I had the great misfortune to lose my sight.” I guess it’s a good thing I’m writing a novel.
What books are unique to your bedside?