Although born in California, Ron grew up mostly in North Carolina, where family from both sides were born and raised. Most of his relatives hail from Caldwell County, in the Carolina hills, and many of them still gather for a reunion every October in North Wilkesboro. Ron’s father was the wild-card, an electrical engineer recruited by Western Electric to do missile research for Bell Labs in the 1950s-70s.
This compelled his family to travel fairly widely, at one point re-locating to an island–Kwajalein— in the mid-Pacific for two years.
They returned to North Carolina when Ron was a teenager. He became a musician and a long-distance runner. A peace activist during the Vietnam war and a leader for change in student politics, he was elected president of his high school, then went on to earn earn his B.A. in English, with Honors in Creative Writing, from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill
He knew he wanted to write but wasn’t sure how to go about it, so he traveled around the country, taking odd jobs that included stints as a door-to-door salesman, a yardman, and a customs clearance clerk, among other things. Frustrated with the daily grind, he became a professional club musician in the California honky-tonk and casino circuits, playing drums and singing six nights a week.
He did this for six years, trying to write in his free time. As soon as he published his first story (in the Indiana Review), he applied to graduate schools–never having heard of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where everyone told him to go.
At Iowa, Ron realized his love of teaching and decided to pursue a Ph.D. so that he could teach at the college level. After earning a Ph.D. in American Lit. and Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he taught for two years as an instructor at Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond, VA.
Then he took a tenure-track job in the Writing Department at Loyola University, in Baltimore, Maryland. He went on to chair the Writing Department for nine years. In 2006, he was elected to the board of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs and served as that organization’s president from 2008-2010.
Ron returned to the Pacific Islands in 2008 to establish the Marshall Islands Story Project, supported by a grant from the National Park Service. The Story Project aims to preserve the oral story culture of Marshallese elders. It teaches Marshallese college students how to gather and translate these stories into English and build a website to broadcast them to the world.
The Story Project piloted an innovative pedagogy that enabled Marshallese students to learn real-world skills (website building, writing in English, online communication) as they preserved their rich (but vanishing) oral culture.
In 1999, he met Jill Eicher and bought a nearly-destroyed fraternity house in Baltimore’s historic Charles Village. Together, they renovated the trashed Victorian and, five years later, got married in the house. In 2008, their remarkable rehab work was featured in This Old House magazine in a story titled “From Animal House to Our House.” Their work can be seen at their website, Houselove.org. and on their You Tube channel: House Love
Ron continues to pursue music, leading Jazz Caravan, a 6-piece straight-ahead jazz band that plays throughout the mid-Atlantic region: Jazz Caravan.
In 2015, Ron and Jill moved to Good Contrivance, an historic farm of conserved land north of Baltimore. The farm is a 501C-3 nonprofit, dedicated to the preservation and restoration of small historic farms. As part of their public outreach, they have opened a retreat for writers: Good Contrivance Farm Writer’s Retreat.
Ron Tanner earned his B.A. in English with Honors in Writing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, his M.F.A. in Fiction Writing from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, after which he won a prestigious Michener fellowship for post graduate work. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in American Literature and Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he was one of four University Fellows.
He joined the faculty of Loyola University-Maryland in 1990 and served as the 3-term chair of Loyola University’s Writing Department, leading the department through its growth first as a Writing and Media department and then a Communication Department, where he helped developed one of the most extensive undergraduate writing curriculums in the nation. His administrative experience has included program reviews, strategic planning, and curricular assessment.
As a two-term president of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, which serves over 30,000 writers and 500 writing programs worldwide, he was instrumental in forging a new strategic plan to address twenty-first century concerns.
In 2008, Ron won a grant from the National Park Service to establish the Marshall Island Story Project to preserve the oral story culture of the Marshall Islands. Ron taught Marshallese college students how to build websites and then interview Marshallese elders to capture and translate their stories for publication on the Mistories website.
Ron has been an avid advocate of educational innovation, most recently promoting technology in writing classes. At Loyola University, he has been a leader in the development of new technology-rich courses, such as “Website Creation, Management, and Design.”
In 2012, he established Preservation America, an educational project that documents historical, architectural preservation in the U.S.A. He has traveled extensively to record video of these preservation efforts with the aim to educate Americans about their rich architectural heritage.
In 2014, Ron was awarded Loyola University’s highest honor, the Nachbhar Award for achievement in the humanities. A compelling public speaker, Ron travels widely to conduct workshops and talks about preservation, teaching, and writing.