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Silas House, Kentucky Poet Laureate, presents lecture at University of Kentucky

Isabella Sepahban
Silas House signs books after giving a lecture at the William T. Young library at the University of Kentucky on Thursday, March 21, 2024, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Isabella Sepahban | Staff

Kentucky Poet Laureate Silas House spoke about his latest novel, “Lark Ascending,” and his journey through grief to attendees at the William T. Young Library. 

House was appointed as the poet laureate of Kentucky for the 2023-24 year and has also won many awards, such as the 2023 Southern Book Prize in Fiction for “Lark Ascending,” according to the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance.

On Thursday, March 21, 2024, House discussed learning how to heal from losing someone and maintaining hope in the modern world.

The majority of the lecture involved House explaining to the audience his inspiration behind writing his latest novel.

“This is a book born of grief,” House stated. “Nothing changes us more than grief … nothing is ever the same again.”

House said the grief and sorrow he dealt with when his aunt died inspired the novel.

He said his aunt was a “third parent” to him.

“… In many ways, she was the parent I needed …” House said. “(She was) the parent that my mother and father often could not be for a little gay boy … due to their strict fundamentalist beliefs. She was foundational … When we lost her … I was shocked to find myself (on) the floor, howling with pain.”

House explained how he had never experienced grief in such an immense way.

“This was profound mourning. It was complex, physical, overwhelming. This was a grief riddled with regret, anger, and most of all, deep sorrow,” House said.

House said that, immediately following the death of his aunt, he had to move to Ireland for a short period of time to work for the University of Ireland.

The poet laureate went on to explain moments he experienced in Ireland that helped him process his grief, one of which involved a border collie he encountered while on a walk.

“He looked me right in the eye … and I felt like he was saying, ‘I have known great loss, too,’” he said.

House said this moment was monumental in his journey with grief.

“He visited me on that path just when I needed him the most … and in that moment, he seemed like a beacon of hope for me,” House said.

The novel “Lark Ascending” takes place 20 years in the future and follows the story of a young boy named Lark.

Throughout the novel, Lark deals with immense grief, as he has lost not just everyone he loves but his country, as well.

After being driven out of his home due to famine, forest fires and the crumbling of democracy, Lark has to travel by foot from his home in Appalachia all the way to Ireland, the only country in the novel that offers sanctuary to the refugees escaping America.

House said his interactions with his grief in Ireland, as well as the current climate change and refugee crisis, heavily influenced his novel and how he approached writing the character Lark.

“Everything in the book is either happening right now or has happened in the past,” House said. “It’s about living under the looming shadow of climate change and the rising vitriol that continues to divide us so deeply as a country.”

However, despite the immensely tragic obstacles Lark has to overcome, by the end of the novel Lark is an old man who still has hope for himself and the future.

“My goal was to write a book wherein the main character has lost everything … yet he holds on to hope,” House said. “He holds on to his humanity.”

House went on to explain how writing the novel served as a healing process for him.

“When you are mired in deep grief…you have to figure it out on your own,” he said.  “It took me a long time to do that … nine years later, I am still pretty grief-stricken … but this book (helped) me to navigate the grief.”

 “The grief was so large because the love was so large,” House said.

House explained that he hoped readers would find solace in his book as well.

“I focused on those elements as much as I could in an effort to conjure hope for the reader, too,” the author said.

Towards the end of the lecture, House opened the floor for questions. 

When asked how often he wove true stories into his fictional writing and why he did so, the author’s response was simple.

“I think more about the essential truth,” House said. “I’m not thinking about the death of my aunt, but instead … the grief surrounding that.”

House explained how he tried to incorporate the emotions he felt into his writing rather than the experiences he went through.

“It’s all about … the emotion behind things that I’ve actually lived through,” House said.

House was also asked what advice he would give to aspiring writers.

“Read widely, read constantly,” House said.

House said he believes it is important to gather inspiration from all art forms, not just writing. 

“Be open to all art to feed you as a writer,” House said. “Don’t just think that you’re going to be fed by other writing. Look to film, photography, music, to tell you more about how to be an artist.”

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