Why is it that regional pride and familial closeness are considered primarily to be a Southern thing, or more unfortunately, Hillbilly? This was the singular thought that kept popping into my head Wednesday night as I listened to famed Kentucky author Silas House read one of his transporting essays for NKU’s Friends of Steely Library 2006-07 literary series.
In his reading (from the anthology Of Woods and Waters: A Kentucky Outdoors Reader, edited by Ron Ellis, who happened to introduce House’s appearance), House articulated the finer moments of his family’s long-running summer camping vacations to Dale Hollow lake: fishing, singing, swimming. But the most poignant bits, his face growing a little more serious and his reading just a little slower, were scenes of his family eating together — sometimes all 40 of them — over his mother and aunts’ huge, home-cooked meals, fits of laughter and great storytelling. Everyone together, the devout Pentecostals and the partiers, as he put it.
It’s no secret that House’s Eastern Kentucky upbringing serves as fodder for most of his subject matter. His three novels — Clay’s Quilt, A Parchment of Leaves and The Coal Tattoo — are all in one way or another related to an aunt, cousin, mother and so on. His material seems to be paying off; Tattoo was chosen as the 2005 Kentucky Book of the Year, 2005 Appalachian Book of the Year and a finalist for the Southern Book Critic Circle Prize and SEBA Book of the Year. We were told there’s a fourth coming out this spring (Eli the Good), and a screenplay currently is in production featuring Ashley Judd. His play, The Hurting Part, premiered last year in Lexington.
By request, House touched on his efforts to stop mountaintop removal — he was among the first group of writers to visit removal sites and drafted the author’s statement against the act — encouraging attendees to research and increase awareness on the issue, but for the most part kept the session focused on writing. One hour well spent. More at www.silashouse.com.
— Jessica Canterbury