Last week the Humanities Center welcomed nationally-renowned writer Silas House to discuss his writing process and new book Southernmost.
Ann Pancake, writer and professor at WVU, introduced Silas. She talked about his Kentucky roots, influences on Appalachian literature, and “Moonpie” hospitality.
Silas gave the audience a behind-the-scenes look into his writing process for Southernmost, a novel about a preacher named Asher from Tennessee who risks losing everything when he offers shelter to a gay couple after a devastating flood. After his community turns against him and a custody battle between him and his wife ensues, Asher flees with his young son to Key West, where he hopes to find his brother, Luke, whom he’d turned against years ago after Luke came out.
Silas stressed the importance of conflict and trouble in a novel. He said, “Once I get enough trouble going, that’s all I need.” He talked about how his personal experiences and a newspaper article about a domestic kidnapping led to his novel. As a writer heavily influenced by place and environment, Silas spent several months in Key West in order to honestly portray the city through the perspective of his characters. Silas also discussed the influence of film and music on his work. He played some music from the playlist he made for Southernmost, which includes artists like Patty Griffin, My Morning Jacket, Fleetwood Mac, and Tom Petty.
Silas talked about the power of empathy, a driving force in his book. At times, characters are crippled by empathy, others lack empathy, and some discover love and truth in it. Silas took the audience on an enlightening and powerful journey through the writer’s process. We are all grateful and better for it.
Silas House is the nationally bestselling author of six novels--Clay's Quilt, 2001; A Parchment of Leaves, 2003; The Coal Tattoo, 2005; Eli the Good, 2009; and Same Sun Here (co-authored with Neela Vaswani) 2012, and Southernmost (June 2018)--as well as a book of creative nonfiction--Something's Rising, co-authored with Jason Howard, 2009; and three plays: The Hurting Part (2005), This Is My Heart for You (2012), and In These Fields, with Sam Gleaves, 2016.
His work frequently appears in The New York Times and Salon. He is former commentator for NPR's "All Things Considered". His writing has appeared in Time, Garden and Gun, Oxford American, Narrative, Blackbird, Newsday, as well as in anthologies such as Best Food Writing, 2015 and New Stories From the South, The Year's Best: 2004. House serves on the fiction faculty at the Spalding MFA in Creative Writing and as the NEH Chair at Berea College.
Find out more about Silas here.