“A Land More Kind than Home,” which revolves around a young autistic boy who is smothered during a church healing service, won the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award from the Crime Writers Association of America. Since the book’s April publication by William Morrow/HarperCollins, Cash has become something of a media darling, grabbing the attention of Vanity Fair, National Public Radio and other media.
The New York Times calls “A Land More Kind than Home” a "mesmerizing first novel" and an "intensely felt and beautifully told story.” The Washington Post says: "[With] this clear-sighted, graceful debut [Cash] adds his promising new voice to Southern fiction."
The author, who earned a doctoral degree in English from UL Lafayette in 2008, will return to campus for a 7:30 p.m. reading Monday at the Ernest J. Gaines Center in Edith Garland Dupré Library. The event, hosted by UL Lafayette’s Creative Writing Program, the English Department and the Ernest J. Gaines Center, is free and open to the public.
Cash, a North Carolina native, credits much of his critical and commercial success to Gaines, UL Lafayette’s writer-in-residence emeritus. Cash has said he enrolled at UL Lafayette to study under Gaines, whose works include “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” and “A Lesson Before Dying,” which won a National Book Critics Circle Award.
“I chose UL Lafayette…(because) I wanted a really rich cultural experience and that’s exactly what I found when I went down there. But the primary reason was Ernest Gaines taught there,” said Wiley during an interview broadcast on a University of North Carolina television station.
Cash started writing “A Land More Kind than Home” while studying at UL Lafayette, according to information on his Web site (wileycash.com). “I began writing “A Land More Kind than Home” while working on my Ph.D. at the University of Louisiana, where I spent five long years sweating, celebrating Mardi Gras, and missing the mountains of North Carolina. While living in Lafayette, I took a fiction workshop with Ernest J. Gaines, who taught me that by writing about home I could recreate that place no matter where I lived. Gaines made this clear to me one afternoon while we were visiting an old cemetery near the plantation where he was born. He pointed to a grave marker and said, ‘You remember Snookum from ‘A Gathering of Old Men?’ He’s buried right over there.’ ”
Wiley, who teaches fiction and nonfiction writing at Southern New Hampshire University, credits another UL Lafayette professor, Reggie Scott Young, with sparking the inspiration for “A Land More Kind than Home.” Cash detailed the experience in his Vanity Fair interview.
“I was taking a class in African American literature, and my professor brought in a news story about a young, autistic African American boy – I think he might have been like 14 – who was smothered in a healing service on the South Side of Chicago at a storefront church. It’s tragic, but I just thought it was so interesting, because I was raised in an evangelical church. The church I went to was Southern Baptist. There weren’t things like faith healings that extreme, but it was something that I knew about and that I was comfortable talking about.”
In addition to his doctoral degree from UL Lafayette, Cash holds a bachelor’s degree in literature from the University of North Carolina-Asheville and a master’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. His stories have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Roanoke Review and The Carolina Quarterly. He lives with his wife in West Virginia.
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