Writing the divide: North St. Louisan, MFA alumnus wins RAC artist fellowship

January 3, 2017

Categories In the News

UMSL Daily
Marisol RamirezJanuary 2, 2017

When Ron Austin decided at 15 years old that he was going to be a writer, he was living with his family near North Grand and St. Louis Avenue, going to Kirkwood High School on the bussing program and reading Richard Wright for a philosophy class.

“‘Black Boy‘ was one of the first novels that I really related to,” Austin said. “Since it really affected me, I wanted to figure out why it did that and how I could do that for other people.”

For 17 years, Austin has pursued that goal, earning his MFA in creative writing from the University of Missouri–St. Louis and often “writing in the dark” – his phrase for working hard on writing with little to no recognition.

“I pursued writing for the sake of writing and understood the importance of keeping intentions pure,” he said. “When I read biographies of authors I admired, I noticed most of them spent years and years working on one project, and I realized there are a ton of talented  people, but patience, diligence and integrity make the difference. You have to study, practice and produce your best work before anything else.”
And now Austin’s work is beginning to gain recognition.

On Dec. 13 the Regional Arts Commission shined a light on the UMSL alumnus, who received a $20,000 artist fellowship from the organization to further his writing. He was one of 10 local artists to be funded out of the 212 applicants who practice a variety of disciplines including music, visual arts and theater.

“It’s just really surreal and strange to finally have so much support and to have people honor and celebrate what you’ve done and what you’re progressing toward,” Austin said.

Austin’s current draft of his short story collection “Avery Colt Is A Snake, A Thief, A Liar” earned him the honor. The stories revolve around a loose persona based on Austin’s childhood in his north St. Louis neighborhood.

“It’s a rough part of town,” he said. “You find yourself, whatever it is you’re trying to do, whatever your goals are, running into some difficult experiences just because of the conditions that you’re in.”
Just a 10-minute drive from his old home is Saint Louis University, where Austin earned his bachelor’s degree in English.

“That’s a very short stretch,” he said. “There’s the Delmar Divide. And before I ever watched a documentary about it or read anything about it, it’s something that I sensed as I walked back and forth between my home and campus. You have SLU, where millions of dollars are spent on building this beautiful campus, and then you have Grand Center with a lot of good interesting stuff happening there, but once you cross Delmar and you start to walk towards my neighborhood, it’s a completely different story. You can kind of tell that something’s off there. You ask yourself a simple question: ‘Why is that part of town so developed and this part of town is struggling?’”

Writing about his experience helped Austin not only process his circumstance, but it also presented an opportunity to encourage and instill hope in those who may have walked in similar shoes. But Austin’s writing also aims to move a second audience.
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