New Orleans native Maurice Carlos Ruffin has been chosen as the John and Renée Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi for 2020-21.
A New Orleans native, Ruffin rocketed onto the American literary scene with his widely praised first novel, “We Cast a Shadow,” the story of a father trying to shield his son from racism, told in the genre of a horror novel. The book was lauded by The New York Times, which chose it as a notable book of 2019. The Washington Post and National Public Radio also put “We Cast a Shadow” on their best books list for 2019.
“Horror is a fitting genre to write about race in America,” Ruffin said. “As far back as Richard Wright’s “Native Son,” Black American writers have turned to horror to describe a situation that can be, literally, horrible.”
Ruffin’s forthcoming short story collection, “The Ones Who Don’t Say They Love You,” will be published in the spring of 2021 by One World Random House.
Ruffin will spend the academic year working on a new novel he describes as an “upbeat and hopeful side of the race problem in America. It is about people coming together to solve those problems.”
He hopes to have his book written during his nine-month stay in Oxford, an ambitious goal for any writer.
“It took me four years to complete “We Cast a Shadow,” but I was able to write 20 pages in just three days this week, so I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to get this book done while I’m here,” he said.
When he isn’t writing, Ruffin teaches an undergraduate advanced fiction workshop online. Next semester, he’ll be teaching in the university’s graduate creative writing program, ranked as one of the best in the nation.
“Writing is a community exercise,” he said. “We think about the lone writers, but really, no writing gets done without those you trust to read your work and give commentary. The workshop model is a chance to accelerate the writer.”
That outlook epitomizes the philosophy about teaching creative writing at Ole Miss.
“Clearly, Maurice believes in the power of writing communities, and I expect that with his leadership – even on Zoom – those communities will form and flex their literary muscles,” said Ivo Kamps, UM chair and professor of English.
“We are extremely fortunate to have Maurice. The style and intensely relevant subject matter of ‘We Cast a Shadow’ will appeal to our students and should make them keen to learn all they can from its author.”
Ruffin enjoys being a member of Oxford’s rich literary community.
“There are a lot of great literary communities like New York, the center of publishing, but Oxford is special in that it is a nexus of Southern writers with a respect for that history,” he said. “The community here is adventurous and inspires me.”
Ruffin and his wife are enjoying exploring the area and living in the historic house that is home to all Grisham writers-in-residence. Coming from a large city, he is enjoying the friendliness of Oxford, where “people wave at you” as you pass them on the street, he said.
“A program like this is special because it is designed to give writers like me an opportunity to devote more of our resources to the writing itself,” Ruffin said. “It is a great blessing to be here.”
By Kellie Smith