Professor Shann 'Ray' Ferch Earns American Book Award

Shann Ferch

August 28, 2012

Gonzaga News Service 

SPOKANE, Wash. — Gonzaga University Professor Shann "Ray" Ferch, a distinguished fiction writer, poet, and scholar of leadership and forgiveness studies, is one of 12 authors nationwide who will receive an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation for "American Masculine" (2011; Graywolf Press) his collection of short stories.

The 2012 American Book Award winners will be formally recognized at 2 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 7 in the Maud Fife Room located in Wheeler Hall on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. This event is open to the public.

The American Book Awards were created to provide recognition for outstanding literary achievement from the entire spectrum of America's diverse literary community. The purpose of the awards is to recognize literary excellence without limitations or restrictions.

The foundation views American culture as inclusive and has always considered the term "multicultural" to be not a description of various categories, groups, or "special interests," but rather as the definition of all of American literature. The awards are not bestowed by an industry organization, but rather are writers' awards given by other writers.

In November (2011), Ferch was awarded a prestigious $25,000 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. He uses his middle name "Ray" as his pen name to pay tribute to his mother who shares the name.

"I write fiction and poetry under my middle name in honor of my Mom, Saundra Rae. She is the spiritual center of our family. To me, her life embodies grace and forgiveness," said Ferch, whose mother and father live in Bozeman, Mont. Ferch spent part of his childhood on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Southeast Montana, attended Park High in Livingston, Mont., and played basketball for Montana State and Pepperdine universities before playing overseas in Germany.

"American Masculine" won the 2010 Bakeless Prize. Sherman Alexie called it "tough, poetic, and beautiful" and Dave Eggers called it "lyrical, prophetic, and brutal, yet ultimately hopeful." The book received critical acclaim from Esquire, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, and the American Library Association. In "American Masculine," Ferch strikes a balance between American Indian and Euro-American relations, focusing on the nature of the feminine and the masculine in the contemporary American West. One example is from the story "The Miracles of Vincent van Gogh" in which he takes on the character of men caught in the crucible created by national recession, by the need to borrow, and by the reality of culpability. Ferch's poetry and fiction dovetail with his creative nonfiction book of leadership and political theory "Forgiveness and Power in the Age of Atrocity" (Rowman & Littlefield), which sheds light on the nature of categorical human transgressions and engages the question of ultimate forgiveness in the context of ultimate violence.

Ferch's writing on forgiveness and atonement speaks to critical race and gender issues in contemporary American life. "I am humbled and grateful to receive an American Book Award," he said, "an award with a truly amazing legacy that has honored so many of the writers whose work is most beloved to me, such as bell hooks, Cornell West, Toni Morrison, Leslie Marmon Silko, Sherman Alexie, James Welch, Louise Erdrich, and Dave Eggers."

Ferch earned a Ph.D. in systems psychology from the University of Alberta, a master's degree in clinical psychology from Pepperdine, and a dual Master of Fine Arts in poetry and fiction from Eastern Washington University. He has won the Subterrain Poetry Prize, the Ruminate Short Story Prize, and the Crab Creek Review Fiction Prize. His work has appeared in scientific journals internationally as well as in many of the nation's leading literary venues including Poetry, McSweeney's, Poetry International, Narrative, and Story Quarterly.