Silas House is an author best known in the Appalachian region who deserves greater nationwide recognition. If you have not yet read his work, drop everything, get thee to an independent bookseller or go online and order one or more of his books. In fifty years time and another fifty beyond, I believe he may well be heralded as the Mark Twain of his generation. He is a wordsmith so deft and sure in his craft that one is tempted to read his works aloud to fully savor the rich experience of reading them. Born in the tiny Appalachian coal mining town of Lily, Kentucky, Silas burst on the literary scene in 2001 with the publication of Clay’s Quilt, nominated for several awards. It’s the first of a loosely basted trilogy, and an enduring success, particularly in the south where copies passed between friends become tattered from sharing and re-reading. A Parchment of Leaves, published to greater recognition as a national bestseller and wider acclaim, followed in 2003, the same year that House earned his M.F.A. from Spaulding University. The Fellowship of Southern Writers presented House with their Award for Special Achievement. He also was honored with the Chaffin Award for Literature and the Kentucky Novel of the Year Award. The Coal Tattoo, published in 2004, also earned the distinction of Kentucky Novel of the Year Award as well as the prestigious Appalachian Writers’ Association Book of the Year Award.
House is an impassioned, well spoken environmentalist who writes and speaks out about mountaintop removal and the coal industry. Something’s Rising, written with Jason Howard in 2009 with an introduction by Lee Smith profiles various regional anti-mountaintop removal activists. Eli the Good, originally targeted for a young adult audience was published the same year and became an immediate bestseller that also received numerous honors. Obviously, a man of letters who has rightfully earned his accolades and respect, Silas has penned many short stories and introductions to several non-fiction books. He is noted music journalist who has served as contributing editor to No Depression magazine and has written press kit biographies for several Nashville scene musical luminaries such as Kris Kristofferson, Del McCoury, Lee Ann Womack and others. He has written three plays that have been produced at the University of Kentucky, the Actor’s Guild of Louisville and Berea College where he was named in 2010 as the NEH Chair in Appalachian Studies. He also teaches courses in creative writing at Spaulding University and is a welcome instruction at writer’s workshops as well as engaging speaker.
The short story Recruiters, first published in Anthology of Appalachian Writing, Vol. 2, has been reissued in three elegant, illustrated editions by Larkspur Press in Monterey, Kentucky. It comes in paperback, an extravagantly priced special edition and the more affordable one I chose, Japanese cloth on boards. Larkspur Press books are a product of hand type-set letterpress printing where the words are in the paper, not printed on it. Artist Arwen Donahue’s arresting black and white woodcut prints complement the text with spare illustrations. The edition includes Sue Massek’s poem, “Brennan’s Ballad” which served as inspiration for the short story. It’s an eloquent, tragic tale of the impact of military recruiters on one young woman named Brennan Bright. The recruiters come to every impoverished, small town in America. As shown by enlistment statistics, they are quite successful in the hollers and back roads of traditionally patriotic and deeply religious Appalachia. Their enticing promises of steady, good pay, travel opportunities and a chance for advancement or an escape from areas of low or no viable employment fill the rosters with a steady supply of new young recruits. Brennan is particularly vulnerable to the siren song of a military career. A tomboy who as a child tells her wise, loving and knowing mother at seventeen she “was funny.” As a consequence, she suffers ridicule and condemnation by their neighbors and townspeople. Brennan enlists, completes basic training and is immediately sent to an incomprehensible war overseas. Injured deeply physically and emotionally, she is returned stateside to a badly run military hospital which further victimizes her. Recruiters is an eloquent plea for better treatment of veterans and a tale of everyman. Silas House is an acute observer and an eloquent American spokesman.