“SILAS HOUSE: EXPLORING AN APPALACHIAN WRITER’S WORK” edited by Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt (University Press of Kentucky, 208 pages, $ 33).
“Storytelling is in our blood, as Appalachians,” says Silas House in an interview included in “Silas House: Exploring an Appalachian Writer’s Work”. “It’s part of us. The act of telling a story is the act of preservation, so I often see myself as an advocate for preservation by being a writer. In a way, that’s my ultimate goal. “
Hailing from eastern Kentucky, House has gained a unique degree of respect and adoration among fellow Appalachian writers for his luminous novels, prolific music journalism and theatrical works, as well as his activism. This activism led to “Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Mountaintop Removal”. Co-edited with his wife, essayist Jason Kyle Howard, “Something’s Rising” contains essays and oral histories of the struggle against the exploitation of mountain communities and ecosystems by coal companies.
The essays collected in “Silas House” reflect the very high esteem in which House is held by its peers. Editor-in-Chief Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt has assembled a thoughtful group of Appalachian literary scholars and writers. Their detailed reflections and literary analysis offer a deep dive into the whole of House’s work.
Several of the essays, including the opening chapter of Shurbutt, focus on House’s Appalachian trilogy, consisting of “Clay’s Quilt” (2001), “A Parchment of Leaves” (2002) and “The Coal Tattoo” ( 2004). These three novels follow a multigenerational story of two interconnected families in the mountains of Kentucky.
A high-profile essay by Chattanooga-born scholar Donna Summerlin shows how the trilogy’s nuanced representations of gender, race, and spirituality challenge the nefarious stereotypes so often projected onto Appalachian life. “Instead of the nostalgic and often negative images of a backward region locked in the past,” writes Summerlin, “House offers a contemporary perspective on the strong religious roots, deeply rooted values and diverse ethnicities that have shaped life in the mountains. “
Poet Maurice Manning contributes a graceful essay on lyrical prose in “Parchment”. Manning writes that in the novel’s most lyrical passages, “the reader’s attention is deepened, drawn into a dimension of feeling and meaning that exists beneath the surface of the story.” “Tenth Generation Appalachian” Jennifer Adkins Reynolds chooses the trilogy’s many musical references as her subject, tracing the significant effect of music on the characters, plots and thematic threads of the trilogy.
House, a former writer-in-residence at Lincoln Memorial University and founder of the Mountain Heritage Literary Festival, has addressed the complexities of the LGBTQ experience in the Appalachians in a number of his works, perhaps most touching in his novel by 2018, “Southernmost”. Writer, musician, and storyteller Adam Booth offers a delightful exploration of the slightly broader concept of ‘Quare’ in House’s work, a local term that House said their community used ‘when referring to someone they accepted. as part of their world but didn’t quite fit in, whether socially inept or genuinely queer in the most modern sense of the term. “
Other genres of House writing are also coming under close scrutiny, with particular attention to how House portrays marginalized characters. West Virginia writer Natalie Sypolt examines House’s theatrical works. Ohio scholar Jacqueline Yahn focuses on House novels for young readers, “Eli the Good” from 2009 and “Same Sun Here” from 2011 (co-authored with Neela Vaswani). Yahn argues that these novels should be taught in public schools in Appalachia, providing these young readers with stories that reflect their “worlds of life,” rarely found in mainstream young adult literature.
Kentucky-based poet Marianne Worthington discusses all of House’s journalistic work. Along with House and Howard, Worthington co-founded the online literary magazine Still: The Journal, focused on the Appalachians. His essay provides a detailed analysis of House’s approach to music journalism and his activist writings, as well as an annotated inventory of notable House essays over the past decade.
Worthington argues that, through his immersive prose, House “creates a sense of identification with his“ story-hungry ”audience. Readers who identify with a storyteller can walk into the story, experience it, get away with it. memory.” Each writer included in “Silas House” communicates a powerful identification with House himself. Every thoughtful argument illuminates the rich, indelible beauty of House’s work.
For more local coverage of the books, visit Chapter16.org, an online publication from Humanities Tennessee.