Czech American artist and American Book Award winner Shann Ray teaches leadership and forgiveness studies at Gonzaga University. He has also taught poetry for Stanford and delivered poetry engagements at Cambridge and the Center for Contemplative Leadership at Princeton Theological Seminary. A National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, through his research in forgiveness and genocide Shann has served as a visiting scholar in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, and as a poetry mentor for the PEN America Prison and Justice Writers Program. Having collaborated as a visiting poet with painter Makoto Fujimura on a United Nations grant entitled Intercultural Dialogues through Beauty as a Language of Peace, Ray is also a three-time High Plains Book Award winner, Bread Loaf Fellow, International Book Award winner, Bakeless Prize winner, and winner of the Foreword Book of the Year Readers’ Choice Award. His work comprises a libretto and 15 books, of which 10 are poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction including Atomic Theory 7The Garment of Praise, Forgiveness and Power in the Age of Atrocity, Balefire, American MasculineSweetcloverBlood Fire Vapor SmokeAmerican Copper, The Souls of Others, and Transparent in the Backlight. His poems and prose have been featured in Poetry, Esquire, Narrative, McSweeney’s, Prairie Schooner, Poetry International, Big Sky Journal, and the American Journal of Poetry.

A finalist with Ted Kooser’s Splitting an Order and Erin Belieu’s Slant Six, Ray’s book of poems, Balefire, won the High Plains Book Award for Poetry.  His chapbook of poems, Atomic Theory 432, appears with Mudlark.  His poetry collection, Sweetclover, speaks of the graces of the long marriage, and his book of poems Atomic Theory 7: poems to my wife and God, in concert with visual artist Trinh Mai, considers a most uncommon union between the lover and the beloved: the body at rest and war, in beauty and peace, in fracture and despair, in the finality of darkness and the atomic fusion that beckons new life.

A former professional basketball player, Ray’s collection of stories, American Masculine, was named a “3 Books Every Man Should Read” selection by Esquire Magazine. The collection won the Bakeless Prize from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and two High Plains Book Awards, for Best Story Collection and Best First Book. American Masculine earned starred reviews from all four major trade publications: Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, and Shelf Awareness, and was named a Kirkus Best Book of the Year, Best Short Story Collection, and Editor’s Choice Selection.  Ray’s second collection of stories, Blood Fire Vapor Smoke, also earned a Kirkus Reviews Star for books of exceptional merit and was named a Kirkus Best Book of the Year.  The collection reckons the propensity for ultimate violence in the American male and asks questions of ultimate forgiveness in the context of unity between the feminine and the masculine in the individual, the collective, and among nation states.

Ray’s novel, American Copper, is a love song to the United States revealing the radiant and profound life of Evelynne Lowry, a woman who transcends the national myth of regeneration through violence.  American Copper won the Foreword Book of the Year Readers’ Choice Award and the Western Writers of America Spur Award.  The novel was also a finalist for the Washington State Book Award, the High Plains Book Award and the Foreword Book of the Year Award for Literary Fiction.  American Copper has been called “expansive and luminous” by Debra Magpie Earling, “lyrical, prophetic and brutal, yet ultimately hopeful” by Dave Eggers, and “tough, poetic, and beautiful” by Sherman Alexie.  The novel was excerpted by Esquire, Fugue, High Desert Journal, McSweeney’s, and Tin House, and honored with critical acclaim in reviews ranging from New York to San Francisco, along with a Kirkus Reviews Star.

Ray is also the author of a mixed genre memoir The Souls of Others, as well as a collaboration in poetry and prose with the Montana panoramic photographs of Craig Hergert called Transparent in the Backlight, and a work of political theory, Forgiveness and Power in the Age of Atrocity. He is the editor of the anthologies Servant-Leadership and Forgiveness; Servant-Leadership, Feminism, and Gender Well-Being; Global Servant-Leadership; The Spirit of Servant-Leadership; and Conversations on Servant-Leadership, volumes co-edited with Jiying Song, Philip Mathew, and Larry Spears, among others. He writes poetry and prose as Shann Ray in honor of his mother Saundra Rae, and social science as Shann Ray Ferch.  He played college basketball at Montana State University and Pepperdine University and professional basketball in the German Bundesliga, one of Europe’s top professional leagues.  A licensed clinical psychologist specializing in the psychology of men, he lives with his wife and three daughters in Spokane, Washington.

* Shann’s presentation at the American Book Award ceremony *

* Shann’s Ted talk *

Born and raised in Montana, Ray’s work considers the nature of humanity with regard to violence and forgiveness.  Having completed a thesis in poetry and a thesis in fiction, he holds a dual MFA in poetry and fiction from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University, a Masters in clinical psychology from Pepperdine, and a PhD in systems psychology from the University of Alberta in Canada.  He has served as a Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Fellow, a research psychologist for the Centers for Disease Control, and as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Humanities.  He is the editor of The International Journal of Servant Leadership.

His work has been featured in some of America’s leading literary venues including Poetry, Esquire, McSweeney’s, Narrative, Prairie Schooner, America, Borderlands, Southern Humanities Review, Diode, LitHub, StoryQuarterly, The American Journal of Poetry, Poetry International, South Dakota Review, High Desert Journal, Tin House online, Fugue, Northwest Review, Big Sky Journal, and Montana Quarterly.  Ray is the winner of the subTerrain Poetry Prize, the Crab Creek Review Fiction Award, the Poetry Quarterly Poetry Prize, the Pacific Northwest Inlander Short Story Award, the Ruminate Short Story Prize, and the Creative Writing Distinguished Alumni Award from Eastern Washington University.  His work has been selected as notable in the Best American Sports Writing, Best American Nonrequired Reading and Best of the West anthologies, as a finalist for the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize, as a finalist for the Western Writers of America Spur Award in short fiction, as a finalist for the American Short Fiction Short Story Prize, as a Narrative Story Contest Silver Winner, and appeared in the Best New Poets and Best of McSweeney’s anthologies.  Ray has served as a Milton Fellow Mentor at Seattle Pacific University, and as a Visiting Writer at Pepperdine University, the University of Montana Western, Pacific University, Dickinson State University, Hope College, and Seattle Pacific University.  His influences include Debra Magpie Earling, Natalie Diaz, Melanie Rae Thon, Sherman Alexie, Sandra Alcosser, Li-Young Lee, Claire Davis, Milan Kundera, Anthony Doerr, bell hooks, John Murillo, Jess Walter, Toni Morrison, James Welch, Edna O’Brien, Michael Ondaatje, Louise Erdrich, Leslie Marmon Silko, A.B. Guthrie, Layli Long Soldier, William Kittredge, Sharon Olds, Anne Sexton, Richard Hugo, Richard Ford, Katerina Rudcenkova, C.D. Wright, Leo Tolstoy, John Steinbeck, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Jim Harrison.

Click below to see Shann and his brother Kral throwing down:

Kral and Shann Youtube Dunking video

… serious dunks begin at the 4 minute mark

And here’s an interview of Shann by Peter Geye for Fiction Writers Review:

Crossing the Threshold of Grace