His Love of Writing Was Nurtured at College
Ray Atkins, a well-recognized presence in Rome and Floyd County, accomplished his dream of becoming a published novelist years ago, but he still remembers the thrill of seeing his own words on the printed page. And one of his first experiences of that satisfying sensation happened at Georgia Highlands College via The Old Red Kimono and the Six Mile Post, two publications that still showcase talented students’ work.
Atkins was raised in rural Alabama in a culture that didn’t always prize higher education. Most of his peers married soon after they finished high school. They usually joined the military or began working at a textile mill, several of which employed hundreds of people in the local area. And Atkins followed the pattern. He and his wife married and moved nearby to Northwest Georgia. He went to work at the mill. His wife was a student at Floyd Junior College (GHC’s first name), and he found that he wanted to study as well. They waited until she graduated before it became his turn. When he arrived at school, he rediscovered his love of writing.
But Atkins was practical. He knew he had to make a living, and being a starving artist held little appeal. So he chose psychology as a major. After FJC, he continued his studies at Shorter College (now University), earning a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science.
His education in behavioral science brought him secure managerial jobs for the next 25 years in the automotive and manufacturing sectors, but he never stopped writing. When he retired in 2008 he turned to writing and the pursuit of a Master of Arts in professional writing from Kennesaw State University. In 2011 he also began teaching a few English courses with Georgia Highlands and Georgia Northwestern Technical College. He became full-time at GNTC in 2012. His first novel, The Front Porch Prophet, was published in 2008 and featured a variety of eccentric characters, an element he continues to incorporate into his writing. Atkins was awarded the Georgia Author of the Year for First Novel for his efforts that year.
His next book, Sorrow Wood, came out the following year. His third, Camp Redemption, has just been published by Mercer University Press, and is available in hard copy and electronic versions. This latest has won the Ferrol Sams award for fiction. It, too, paints a quirky array of characters with wit, poignancy, tragedy and regional realism.
It takes place in Sequoyah, Georgia, a tucked-away place in the north Georgia mountains, suspiciously similar to Rome itself. Siblings Early and Ivey Willingham (definitely an old Rome family name) own Camp Redemption, a failing Bible camp. Early, a lifelong underachiever, smokes the occasional pipe full of marijuana, drinks the odd can of malt liquor and watches the world go by. Ivey is a modern-day prophet who sees dead relatives and angels in her sleep. Sounds like a Southern story already, doesn’t it?
After the couple is forced to close the camp, they begin to attract a motley collection of people in trouble. Aside from the odd mix of colorful characters, they must deal with the deacons at the – wait for it – Washed in the Blood and the Fire Rapture Preparation Temple, who have their sights set on acquiring the camp.
The many threads of plot and character converge on a frigid morning in the Georgia mountains, and from that moment forward, nothing is ever the same at Camp Redemption.
Apparently there is a magic in the mountain air of the lower Appalachians that infuses the souls of some Southern writers. Or maybe it’s just the odd juxtaposition in a culture where dark deeds can intermingle unselfconsciously with gracious manners. Whether Faulkner, Pat Conroy, Anne Rivers Siddons – or Ray Atkins – the voice is poetic and lyrical. Not only can they tell a singularly good yarn, they tell it with a musical lilt, overlaid with the slow drawl of a moist summer afternoon on an old front porch.
Atkins’ success points to the mission of Georgia Highlands College: to help students realize their goals. GHC played its role well. While Atkins supplied the talent and drive, GHC helped him establish the building blocks of skills he would need to succeed. All in all, a very honorable accomplishment.
All three of Atkins’ books are available at Barnes and Noble, on Amazon.com and at other local book retailers throughout Georgia.