A writer who tells his story like “a gospel song”
Silas House: Exploring the Work of an Appalachian Writer
Edited by Sylvia Shurbutt
University of Kentucky Press,
p. 208, $32.95
“Since that night, I’ve come to realize that sometimes the best families of all are the ones we create for ourselves, the people we choose to be with,” writes American writer and Appalachian native Silas House at Eli the Good (2009), a quintessentially Southern novel about a 10-year-old boy coming to terms with the realities of war, who is imbued with a strong sense of belonging and affinity with nature.
I will be heading to the United States soon – Midwest cyclones, Iowa – if there is not another lockdown and everything else goes as planned. The tipping process started two years ago when I consolidated a list of books I needed to read about regional writers in the United States, from the topography I was interested in and my visions. Appalachian trails and listicles sprawled across my twenty or so tabs, and then came the readings. Reading about how Gene Wilhelm’s conception of Appalachian culture originated in the 1700s when Scots and other British Isles Irish and Germans settled in the valley and ridge region of Virginia and of North Carolina and lived alongside the Indians. Read texts that reveal the tensions, genius, and tones of Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and the hills of Ohio, the Ozarks, Indiana, and even the state’s coastal towns of Washington, was a divulging delight.
I had the pleasure of attending Yanyi’s “Resonance Architectures” workshop on a Kundiman scholarship where I had the chance to learn how to write prose-drenched lyrics and poetry. I was shortly introduced to the writings of Silas House published by The University Press of Kentucky, particularly my favorite essay from the book in question – ‘Retrieve Music, mountains, and Voice: Silas House as Journalist and Activist‘. I had just finished reading an adventure of Goa, that of Bina Nayak Starfish Pickle (2021) and I was immediately transported to something serious and meditative (Paul Anka in the background helped, just so you know). Silas House’s eight essays were consciously written – the beautiful impact of probing Southern culture apparent in art and establishing a writer’s life that I would otherwise not have experienced. My awareness definitely increased with each trial, delicately placed one after the other – sketching awe and wonder.
Life informs writing. As an Indian who had no idea of Silas House with traces of the Appalachian Trail through the many books and stories I have gone through, I dove in head first to explore what the book contained . Silas House directs its style, maneuvering Appalachia and more. An introspective writer is peered anxiously under a microscope with stilted handwriting. The substantial writing, apparent through Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt’s obsession with Kentucky, shines in every passage, which filters into the aftermath of House’s illuminating interview at the end. The book is divided into chapters that explain how he came to write what and why – clay Quilt, A Parchment of Leaves, the Coal Tattoo, Eli the Goodand The southernmost.
Writing in the seams, traversing the waters seamlessly, and tasting words steeped in history, can be learned from the author who writes with utmost dedication and extensive research, which is evident through the spectacular essays, ‘the stories of Silas House and the sniff of Words : Looking at to Appalachians and the World from the Inside Outside‘, ‘Redemption Appalachians: Deconstruct Stereotypes of sex, Race, and Religion in Silas Houses Appalachians Trilogy‘, are important pieces of literature and not just essays, as they leave the reader with a sweet pat on the back. I remember my grandmother and think of the healing story. ‘Funny Regards and Queer Perspectives: Quality and Square Characters in the In writing of Silas House‘, ‘Music in the Coal Tattoo and clay Quilt‘ and, ‘Lyricism and Metaphor in A Parchment of Leaves‘ cemented Silas House’s status as a hero of American literature. He is certainly not a literary treasure trove with the slogan of a curmudgeonly English teacher because an entire book explaining what he does is now available and is evident of excellence in activism.
I felt disconnected from the history of shifts and works because the problem of being a non-native is such that one has to access enough literature to grasp sentimentality in its truest sense. I felt honored and thrilled to read about the rich prose and awe-inspiring execution of every emotion in House’s work. I wish I had read his works in detail to reason with appreciation what Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt writes with reverence and veneration: “I wondered if trees were God. They were like God in many ways: they were silent and most people only noticed them when the need arose.
Dorothy Allison from Bastard Outside of carolina (1992) fame exudes the confidence of an Appalachian native reader when she praises Silas House’s writing: “Like a local prophet, his language rings out enough to quicken the heart. His method is simple, tell a true story under the guise of fiction and tell it like a gospel.
Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt sums up a legacy in pages unknown to me and I’m sure anyone who reads House’s routine, work style, methods and life as an aggregator will see the pride of Appalachia woven into through the unique voice of the Appalachian-loving editor and co-author. She dissects, but carefully, and she misses nothing.