Appalachian writer Silas House receives Spirit of Kentucky award

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Appalachian author Silas House has been honored as the first recipient of the Spirit of Kentucky award, presented by Leslie Miller, state regent of the Kentucky Society, Daughters of the American Revolution.

Mrs. Miller, whose three-year term began last year, chose to honor the unique spirit of Kentucky, which can be seen in the state’s history, culture, heritage, and music. The Spirit of Kentucky Award will be presented during each year of Mrs. Miller’s administration.

“Silas House creates characters as complex and rich as our state: the beautiful Cherokee woman who leaves home to forge a future with her white husband; the young coal miner whose uncle is a master quilter; the two sisters, polar opposites, who are joined by a commitment to family land,” said Mrs. Miller.

A native of Lily, in Laurel County, Silas’ fledgling writing was nurtured by the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop at Hindman Settlement School.

Now a nationally-recognized writer, environmentalist, poet and playwright, Mr. House shares with the Kentucky Society, DAR a mutual commitment to Hindman.

Hindman Settlement School, founded in 1902, has been a Daughters of the American Revolution-approved school for decades, and is strongly supported by Mrs. Miller. It didn’t hurt that Mrs. Miller’s daughter Sarah attended Hindman’s summer writing workshop and became enchanted with the mountain scenery and the distinguished faculty members such as Silas House.

“I went there at the urging of one of my favorite writers, Lee Smith, who has been working with Hindman for the last thirty years or so and once there I found a chosen family of people who cared deeply about art, history, music, education--all the things that I loved,” said House. “There's something about the Settlement School that brings out the best in people and I have encountered so much generosity and wisdom there that I keep going back to soak it up as much as I can.”

Mr. House is the nationally bestselling author of five novels, three plays, and one book of creative nonfiction. His work has won dozens of awards, with his last novel, Sam Sun Here, collected twelve major prizes, including the E.B. White Award, given to writers whose work embodies the spirit of the author of Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and other classics.

This year he will be inducted into the prestigious Fellowship of Southern Writers. His writing frequently appears in The New York Times and Salon and has been published in places such as Newsday, Narrative, Oxford American, and many others. House serves on the fiction faculty at the Spalding University Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and as the National Endowment for the Humanities chair of Appalachian Studies at Berea College. Mr. House currently lives in Berea.

“Eli the Good is one of my favorites, but I highly recommend all of his work!” said Mrs. Miller.

Like the settlement school, Mr. House has given voice to the struggles of those who have an innate connection with the land and with the place in which they live.

“For me it's impossible to separate the people I write about from the place and of course there is so much history in Kentucky,” said Mr. House, who grew up only one mile from the Wilderness Road and a DAR marker of the trail. Lily is only a few miles from one of the major remaining mills in the state, the site of one of the major taverns along the Wilderness Road, close to two Civil War battlefields, a county away from the historic Cumberland Gap, and a few counties away from the birthplace of Lincoln.

“So from a very young age I was very aware of history and I think that helped me to have such a deep pride in the Commonwealth and want to write about characters who love it as much as I always have.”

Kentucky is a more diverse and eclectic place that many outside the state might think, House, said.

“No matter how different we may appear to be because of race, religion, class, or whatever, we're all united by being Kentuckians, and also united by the fact that so much of the rest of the world looks down on us,” said House. “When you have to defend the place you're from all the time, you tend to love it more. That's definitely been the case for me.”

The award was presented at the Society’s state conference on March 31 in Lexington.

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