4 Questions with Duggins Prize Winner Silas House
Author: Mai Tran
June 10, 2022
Dedicated to the memory of author and journalist Jim Duggins, the Duggins Prize honors LGBTQ-identified authors who have published multiple novels, built a strong reputation and following, and show promise to continue publishing high quality work for years to come. This award is made possible by the James Duggins, PhD Fund for Outstanding Mid-Career LGBTQ Novelists, a fund of the Horizons Foundation, and includes a cash prize of $5,000.
Silas House is the New York Times bestselling author of seven novels, one book of creative nonfiction, and three plays. His work has been published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Advocate, Time, and many other publications. House is a former commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered”. His writing and activism often tackles LGBTQ discrimination and environmental injustice, as well as exploring the concept of created family. His honors include the Storylines Prize from the New York Public Library/NAV Foundation, the Appalachian Book of the Year, and EB White Honor Award, the Intellectual Freedom Prize, and many others. His play, This Is My Heart for You, about the LGBTQ experience in Appalachia, won the Karen Willis Award for Excellence in Theatre for Social Justice. As a music journalist House has worked with artists like Kacey Musgraves, Kris Kristofferson, Jason Isbell, and many others. House serves on the fiction faculty at the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Creative Writing and as the National Endowment of the Humanities Chair at Berea College. His latest book, Lark Ascending, will be published in September.
Are there any LGBTQ writers or books that you count as formative influences to you as a writer? How did you discover them?
Dorothy Allison was the first writer I ever read who was exploring issues of class and queerness and her work completely transformed me and made me feel like my story was valid, too. Jim Grimsley’s Dream Boy is foundational to me, and is a story I could relate to on many layers. I grew up devouring Tennessee Williams’ plays and James Baldwin’s novels–the fact that they lived so openly as gay men in that era meant a lot to me. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple blew my mind wide open in every way possible–about sexuality, race, gender, religion, history. I found these books and writers by constantly studying bookstore and library shelves, hoping for an occasional gay story to show up.
What does a writing day look like for you?
I am always writing in my head and a big part of my process is thinking about my characters and really getting to know them and often walking through the world in their mindsets. My best writing happens when I am taking walks. As far as getting words down on the page, I don’t have any kind of schedule for that. I just write when the spirit moves me, except when I’m finishing a novel. When that happens I’m writing in a kind of fever for hours at a time.
Are there other LGBTQ writers working today whose work you particularly admire?
Carter Sickels’ The Prettiest Star is a beautiful and important novel about the rural queer experience. The poetry of Jericho Brown. Jeanette Winterson’s writing is a touchstone for me. Colm Toibín’s work, especially The Blackship Lighthouse. I think Robert Jones Jr.’s The Prophets is one of the most important novels of this century so far. It is magnificent. And in my opinion Helen Humphries is one of the most underrated novelists of our time. The lovely novels of Rachel Harper. I recently read Douglas Stuart’s Young Mungo and it gutted me in all the best ways.
What’s next for you?
My new novel, Lark Ascending, comes out this September. It’s a novel that centers on deep grief, which I think most of have been experiencing on an epic scale for the past few years, whether it be about witnessing environmental devastation, the pandemic, or the increasingly vitriolic and bigoted politicians who have been doing so much grandstanding. But I wanted to shoot that through with light, and hope, and its core is a very tender love story between two young men set against a near-future backdrop where love, relationships and sex between queer people have been outlawed.