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'I never had a desire to do anything else': Silas House set to become to Kentucky's next poet laureate


Celebrated Kentucky author Silas House has been appointed the state’s poet laureate for 2023-2024.

House will be inducted as poet laureate in a ceremony on April 24 – that’s Kentucky Writers’ Day – in the Capitol Rotunda. The free event will feature comments and readings by outgoing poet laureate Crystal Wilkinson and many others.

The award-winning author of “Clay’s Quilt,” “The Coal Tattoo,” and “Eli the Good” will act as Kentucky’s literary ambassador, leading the commonwealth in a variety of literary activities and events throughout his tenure.

House said he’s always felt it’s “great to be a part of Kentucky’s literary tradition” and that the honor means he will join some of his favorite writers, who have also served in the post.

As a self-described “working class, rural, Appalachian, gay person of faith,” the author said he belongs to a number of groups he hopes will benefit from seeing one of their own represented.

House has also hosted a podcast for WUKY entitled On the Porch featuring interviews, readings, and his favorite music.

Read the full press release below:

FRANKFORT, Ky. (April 19, 2023) — Laurel County native and award-winning author Silas House has been appointed Kentucky Poet Laureate by Gov. Andy Beshear.

House will be inducted as poet laureate in a ceremony on Kentucky Writers’ Day, April 24, at 10:30 a.m. in the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort. The event is free and open to the public.

“I’ve always felt that it’s great to be part of Kentucky’s literary tradition. I’m proud of that,” House said. “Some of my favorite writers have been poets laureate, so that makes my appointment to the position extra special to me.

“I’m especially proud to serve under a governor I admire and respect so much,” he added.

House is the nationally bestselling author of the novels “Clay’s Quilt,” “A Parchment of Leaves,” “The Coal Tattoo” and “Eli the Good.” In 2012 he co-authored “Same Sun Here” with Neela Vaswani. House’s most recent novel, “Lark Ascending,” was published in 2022.

Among his many awards are the Nautilus Award, an E.B. White Award, Appalachian Book of the Year, the New York Public Library and NAV Foundation’s Storyline Prize and the Lee Smith Award. House has been invited to read at the Library of Congress. In 2018, his novel “Southernmost” was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. In 2020, House received the Governor’s Awards in the Arts Artist Award from Gov. Beshear.

House said his journey to literature began when he was 12.

“I knew I never wanted to be anything else. I never had a desire to do anything else,” he said. “I don’t know how I did it, but I know I was very lucky. I had great teachers in the public school system, great public school teachers who encouraged me and guided me. I had family and a community who told me it was something I should do. I was never discouraged.”

As an openly gay man, House said he is proud to represent the LGBTQ community as poet laureate, but added that there are many facets to his life with which he hopes others will connect.

“When you go in and say, ‘I’m these things,’ there are a bunch of young people out there who have not seen themselves represented in public,” House said. He added that he is proud of his working class Appalachian background and hopes others who share the various intersections of the communities he represents will be inspired.

“When you see yourself represented, especially in a positive way, that really matters. I’m a working class, rural, Appalachian, gay person of faith,” he said. “But more and more I see people reducing someone’s identity to an absolute. One thing I’ll always talk about is that we have to stop thinking in absolutes and start thinking of people as more complex.

“You can’t have true empathy if you reduce people to either saints or monsters.”

Kentucky Writers’ Day is celebrated annually on or around April 24, the birthday of Guthrie, Kentucky, native Robert Penn Warren, the first United States Poet Laureate. In odd numbered years, the governor appoints a poet laureate to a two-year term. That person acts as Kentucky’s literary ambassador, leading the commonwealth in a variety of literary activities and events throughout their tenure.

This year’s Writers’ Day will feature a reading and remarks by House and outgoing Kentucky Poet Laureate for 2021-22 Crystal Wilkinson. That afternoon at 2:30 p.m., Paul Sawyier Public Library in Frankfort will feature readings by House, Wilkinson and former poets laureate Richard Taylor, Joe Survant, Sena Jeter Naslund, Maureen Morehead, Frank X Walker, George Ella Lyon and Jeff Worley. That event is free.

As an ongoing celebration of Kentucky Writers’ Day and with April being National Poetry Month, the Kentucky Arts Council will feature videos submitted by Kentucky writers reading their own works.

For more information on the Kentucky Poet Laureate and Kentucky Writers’ Day, visit the arts council website or contact Tamara Coffey, organization support and individual artist director, at tamara.coffey@ky.gov or 502-892-3121.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.