Alumnus returns to teach as writer-in-residence

Madison Ball
Contributor
mball1@unca.edu

Inside Wiley Cash’s office sit the bare essentials needed for being a college professor. He has a laptop, a few pens and pictures of his family on his desk. No decorations grace the walls of this visiting writer, as he will only be teaching at UNC Asheville for the fall semester.

He teaches two courses: a Tuesday/Thursday literature class in the mornings and a Wednesday night creative writing workshop. He is not in his office much aside from office hours because he wants to spend time with the family he uprooted from Wilmington and placed in a nice neighborhood outside of Asheville.

While the workload he manages here pales in comparison to his past ventures as a professor at other universities, he still has not adjusted to someone else dictating his schedule. He misses putting his children to bed at night on Wednesdays and often is not there to see them wake up on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

This doesn’t mean Cash regrets taking the job at UNCA. In fact, he loves it.

“I’m very fortunate, and I know it,” Cash said.

After graduating from UNCA, Cash frequently returned to the area to visit the campus and the mountains. He loved everything about the region and would make sure to stop by anytime he had the chance. Then, an opportunity arose to take up residence in Asheville.

“I was approached by the university in 2014. I taught here as an adjunct professor before graduate school, but I hadn’t taught in four years,” Cash said.

Accepting the job and moving to Asheville presented a challenge for the Cash family.

“I have two children under two years old. My dad also passed away this summer and my wife’s cousin just had a baby. Leaving all of that at home, that’s hard to do,” Cash said.

Back home, Cash’s mother experienced health problems and Cash missed important events.

“But I still had friends in Asheville and I’ve made friends in Asheville,” Cash said.

Cash himself admits that he often feels nostalgic and returning to the campus he used to call home puts him at ease.

“When I was here and I was 20, I had a good time. I was happy here,” Cash said.

Often in class, he will tell his students about experiences he had as an undergraduate on campus and in Asheville, mentioning ghost stories and tales of parties long ago.

Cash grew up in Gastonia, North Carolina — a true southern soul. The courses he teaches reflect his background in the area.

“I knew that I would have to teach a writing class and I wanted to teach fiction because that’s what I do, and then Southern lit. I thought I could have been comfortable teaching a survey a few years ago,” Cash said.

However, Cash turned against the initial idea of a survey course.

“But then I felt like a Southern lit class because I’m a Southern writer. I’m from the South, my background is in Southern lit, primarily African-American lit. It was a natural fit for me to come out of the gate and draw from my natural strengths and store of knowledge that I already have,” Cash said.

According to Marcy Pedzwater, a Wilmington native, the students did nor exactly know what they were signing up for when they registered for his class.

“It definitely surprised me. I was thinking probably William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor. He started the class with Black Lives Matter and that was pretty memorable,” Pedzwater said.

His Southern literature class discusses novels and stories by African-American writers written after or during the Great Migration, a time period where African-Americans left the Southern states and went north to seek a better life.

As a senior literature student, Pedzwater grew curious about the class and the award-winning professor.

“Dr. Cash makes goal setting seem achievable. He’s a normal dude with a best selling novel,” Pedzwater said.

Cash wrote two novels, both collecting many awards and making him a well-known novelist. His next book comes up in class discussions, as students’ readings reflect on similar time frames and themes.

“I haven’t written since I’ve been in Asheville. I have thought about this book, in relation to the Great Migration and how people migrated out of the mills and into the Piedmont,” Cash said.

Cash’s creative writing course has also drawn attention from other faculty members. Evan Gurney, an assistant professor in the English department at UNCA, said Cash is an advertisement for students who wish to pursue creative writing.

“He is an example of someone who was in my students’ shoes and he is obviously quite talented and gifted, but has worked hard at his craft. He is immediate proof of that kind of work ethic,” Gurney said.

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