Kentucky author Silas House comes to Shepherd

September 28, 2009|By NATALIE BRANDON / Special to The Herald-Mail

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- The community of Shepherdstown is anxiously awaiting the arrival of a very special guest.

Renown poet and novelist Silas House will receive the Appalachian Heritage Writer's Award and serve as 2009 writer-in-residence at Shepherd University this Thursday.

A native of Kentucky, House still lives and writes in his boyhood town of Lily. The 38-year-old's pride in his Appalachian heritage runs through his veins.

"I'm very proud to be an Appalachian," he says, "That's a huge part of who I am, and it drives everything I do."


House will participate in a series of programs on Appalachian storytelling and environmental issues that will take place at the university from Monday, Sept. 28, through Saturday, Oct. 3, as a part of Shepherd's annual Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence Week and the Appalachian Heritage Festival concerts in Shepherdstown.

He has been praised as a new talent in Appalachia by literary and Southern culture institutions such as Vanderbilt University and the organizations behind the Pushcart Prize and the Southern Book Critics' Circle Prize.

Raised in a lower-middle class family, House recalls being surrounded by those who shared a love of their mountain culture.

"If you don't know who you're from, you don't know who you are," he says.

Descending from his great-grandmother, a full-blooded Cherokee, House grew up in an environment that echoes the settings of his novels "Clay's Quilt" (2001), "A Parchment of Leaves" (2003), "The Coal Tattoo" (2005) and "Eli the Good" (2009).

"I am a writer because I grew up in a family of storytellers," he says, "I lived on a one-mile stretch of road where I was either kin to everyone or knew them so well that we might as well has been kin. My grandfather and uncles were all very proud to be coal miners. My mother still has a license plate on the front of her car that proclaims herself a 'coal miner's daughter.'"

House's novels touch on the propagation of Appalachian stereotypes, which he calls "cultural profiling." This is a battle House says he has been fighting since his childhood.

"People felt free to make fun of my speech patterns right to my face," he says, "Because of where I was from, I was a redneck, a hillbilly. Everyone thinks that everyone in Appalachia is poor ... and most of the stereotypes that are broadcasted are incorrect or at least grossly exaggerated."

House takes these hardships in stride, saying that these battles against prejudice have made him an advocate of Appalachian values.

"A true Appalachian always fights back, asks questions, doesn't back down," he says, "It make me even prouder of where and whom I am from. Our dialect is part of our culture and if we let that be taken away from us, we've given up a chunk of our souls."

House takes apart these prejudices against his fellow Appalachians through his characters.

"I always just have my characters living their lives like anybody else in the world," he says, "I know that this is a dignified place populated by dignified people, so I want to show that to the rest of the world. I guess if I have any kind of agenda as a writer at all, it's that."

Appalacian Heritage Festival concerts

The Performing Arts Series at Shepherd will sponsor the 14th annual Appalachian Heritage Festival in Shepherdstown at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2, and 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, in the Frank Arts Center Theater on the campus of Shepherd University.

Friday night's program will feature performances by Appalachia-blues musician Jeffrey Scott and Jefferson County native Lars Prillaman's old-time string band the Young Napoleons. Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence Silas House will present the winner of Shepherd University's West Virginia Fiction Award.

Saturday's concert will feature a rare performance by old-time singer-songwriter Jean Ritchie and Juanita Fireball and the Continental Drifters, whose performances recreate 1920s live radio.

Tickets are available at the Shepherd University Bookstore, 210 N. King St., by calling 304-876-5219, or online at www

Admission to both concerts is available for $20; $15 seniors and Shepherd staff; $5 for kids younger than 18. Single-concert tickets are $15 general admission; $10 seniors and Shepherd staff; $5 for kids younger than 18. Concerts are free to Shepherd students.

If you go ...

WHAT: Appalachian Heritage Festival concerts featuring award-winning novelist Silas House as the 2009 Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Resident at Shepherd University.

WHEN: Monday, Sept. 28, through Saturday, Oct. 3

WHERE: Shepherd University and throughout the Shepherdstown, W.Va. community.

COST: Free.

CONTACT: For more information or tickets to the festival concerts, contact Rachael Meads, PASS Director at Shepherd, at 304-876-5113 or, or Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt, Appalachian Heritage Writers project director at 304-876-5220 or See the Appalachian Heritage Web site for information about Silas House and the Festival at


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