Kentucky's Literary Light
by Linda Scott DeRosier
Silas House (1971-) A kid from Lily, Kentucky—where his family has lived for generations—is Kentucky's newest literary light. A graduate of Sue Bennett College and Eastern Kentucky University, House dazzled literary critics and the reading public by breaking onto the national scene in 2001 with the publication of his first novel, Clay's Quilt.
The South's literary community already knew him from his literary awards—House was chosen as one of the South's "Ten Emerging Writers" by the Millennial Gathering of Writers at Vanderbilt University in 2000—and he had some national exposure as a contributor to NPR's "All Things Considered." Still, until 2001, most readers had never heard of Silas House, whose days were spent delivering mail over the back roads of Laurel County, chain-smoking Marlboros, listening to music, and thinking up stories.
Some of those stories became House's debut novel, Clay's Quilt (Algonquin Books, 2001). Though set in Appalachia, Clay's Quilt is an American story as well as a regional one in that it shines light on a family living in the hill country of Eastern Kentucky during the last half of the twentieth century. Clay's Quilt reveals a mutable Appalachia where people still cling fast to home and family, yet are irrevocably changed by cultural shifts, technological advances, media saturation, and three- and four-lane roads into and out of the area. Clay's Quilt received widespread acclaim from an array of book sellers and critics—chosen as a BookSense pick and a finalist for Southeast Booksellers Association fiction award, as well as finalist for Appalachian Writers' Association Book of the Year Award. More importantly, however, readers across the nation purely loved it.
Silas House's appreciation and love for home and region is expressed in his life and his works, all of which are rooted in a strong sense of place and people. This love for home in itself would not be that unique for there are many who ground themselves in this land, Appalachia, and give voice to the pass-along nature and strong family ties that seem to emanate from this piece of earth. Silas House, however, is unique in that his Appalachia—though still a place of coal mines, honky tonks, and hollows—embodies change and the effects of that change on generation next. House's older people still gather for Sunday dinner, drop beans into hills and snack on bologna sandwiches. When young folks relax, however, they smoke some dope, then feed their munchies with bologna sandwiches. Now how's that for combining the traditional Appalachian experience with today's realities? This is not your grandma's Appalachia. Well, yes it is—that and more. It is Appalachia holding tightly to 19th century traditions hurtling warp speed into 21st century reality. House portrays the today of Appalachia, does that consistently—and it works. He's been there; he's done that. Hey, he is there—and he takes us there too, even this Appalachian expat who fancies that she knows those hills and hollows House writes so movingly about. Silas House's characters take me to regions unfamiliar—helps me cross that bridge from places I know well to places better known to my children.
After the success of Clay's Quilt, Silas House didn't rest on his laurels—not for a second—the very next year he put some more of those Marlboro-brought-on stories into yet another novel, A Parchment of Leaves (Algonquin hardcover, Ballantine paper). Again, House reveals a love for his people and his place as he deals with the power of family and the difficulty of extending those family bonds to include an outside other. We come to know that outside other in the character of Vine who affirms the theme of the book declaring, "Family's the only thing a person's got in this life."
Silas House's second book is another hit with critics and readers. A Parchment of Leaves is now a finalist for Southeast Booksellers Association fiction award, as well as the Appalachian Writers' Association Book of the Year Award and has been nominated for Kentucky Public Librarians Choice award and the Kentucky fiction prize. The awards keep coming. Silas House was recently awarded the James Still Award from the Fellowship of Southern Writers and the Chaffin Award from Morehead State University. The work keeps coming too. House is a frequent contributor to NPR's "All Things Considered" and is contributing writer for Nashville's most respected alternative country magazine, No Depression. He is still at home in Lily, Kentucky hard at work on his third novel.
We can't wait.
Books by Silas House
© 2003, Linda Scott DeRosier, All Rights Reserved