The following article was originally posted on artscouncil.ky.gov.
Silas House is the recipient of the 2020 Artist Award from Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear as part of the annual Governor’s Award in the Arts.
The Commonwealth’s most prestigious arts awards honor Kentucky individuals, businesses and organizations that make significant contributions to the arts in the state. Governor’s Awards in the Arts recipients exemplify a diversity of accomplishments in all areas of the arts as well as the irreplaceable value of those contributions to the state’s communities, educational environment and economy. The combined achievements and contributions of this year’s esteemed group of recipients demonstrate the many ways that citizens of Kentucky uphold the tradition of creating a rich cultural legacy.
The ceremony will be held on January 26 at 11 a.m. EST and is available to watch on YouTube.
Born in Corbin, Silas House, who was hailed by fellow Kentucky writer Barbara Kingsolver as one of her “favorite writers and human beings,” is a multiple award-winning, New York Times and nationally best-selling novelist.
House is the National Endowment for the Humanities Chair of Appalachian Studies at Berea College and serves on the faculty of the Spalding University School of Creative Writing. He also serves as a series editor for the Fireside Industries imprint at the University Press of Kentucky. His honors include the Nautilus Award, an E.B. White Honor Book Award, the Caritas Medal, the Appalachian Book of the Year, the Storylines Prize from the New York Public Library/NAV Foundation, the Intellectual Freedom Award from the National Council of Teachers of English, and many other accolades, including winning the Kentucky Novel of the Year twice. In 2016 he was invited to read at the Library of Congress. His 2018 novel Southernmost won the Weatherford Award for Fiction, the Judy Gaines Young Award, was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, was short-listed for the Willie Morris Award, and appeared on several Best of 2018 lists. A graduate of Eastern Kentucky University and Spalding University, he is also the recipient of three honorary doctorates.
A former commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered” House’s writing has appeared in publications such as Time, The Atlantic, The New York Times, Newsday, Garden and Gun, and many others. House’s first three books, which make up The Appalachian Trilogy, are widely considered as quintessential texts for understanding the rural working class experience. His novels for young adults, Eli the Good and Same Sun Here (written with Neela Vaswani), are used in classrooms throughout the world. House was one of the main subjects and an executive producer of the award-winning film Hillbilly, which is now available on Hulu. His new novel will be published in 2022. House grew up in the tri-county area of Laurel, Whitley, and Knox counties but now lives in Lexington.
What does this distinction mean to you?
I would not be a writer without Kentucky, so I take great pride in receiving this award as a representative of my state. A writer cannot separate themselves from their place in the world and I have always been lucky to be surrounded by storytellers and people who encouraged me to be a writer. I’m especially honored to be receiving this award from a governor whom I believe has been our most inclusive one ever.
What do you see as your role in promoting Kentucky art and creativity?
In my work I strive to show Kentucky not as a perfect or terrible place but as a complex place. Complexity is the opposite of stereotype and far too much media shows Kentuckians as caricatures. I want to put Kentuckians on the page who are as complicated as the people I know who live here. I often get asked about why I use so much sense of place in my work and I answer that when you grow up and live in a place as rich in color and cadence, as diverse in topography and ways of being as Kentucky, you can’t help but to want to share that with the reader.
Why do you believe the arts are important?
I know many people, including myself, who have survived as outsiders because of novels, music, films, poetry, painting. The arts literally save lives, so it doesn’t get more important than that. I love that line in the old song that goes “Give us bread, but give us roses” because as much as we need food for sustenance, we also need beauty. Art always reveals the truth, and there are few things more beautiful than that.