“The most fundamental pride in the world is the pride you have in owning a little piece of land! You’ve got to live on your own land, walk on it, work in its dirt, to know the final pride of being free.” — Janice Holt Giles

Janice Holt Giles

Janice Holt Giles (1905-1979) began her career as a writer late in life after moving to rural Kentucky with her second husband in 1949. They chose Knifley as part of the land of her husband’s ancestry, dating back to around 1800.

An excellent and concise biography of the writer can be found here: https://explorekyhistory.ky.gov/items/show/218. Though mostly associated with Kentucky, her roots are in Arkansas, hence a lengthier biography on the novelist is in the Encyclopedia of Arkansas: https://encyclopediaofarkansas.net/entries/janice-holt-giles-3388.

According to the Brethren in Christ website (a must-read to understand what it was like to live in impoverished Adair County in 1950), “One gravel road—the others dusty dirt or impassable mud—connected the area to the nearest town, Columbia, twenty miles south. Only one household in thirty possessed a car or truck; houses lacked plumbing; electric power had just arrived in 1949; telephones did not come until 1961. While not the mountaineers of eastern Kentucky, the ridge people nevertheless possessed the traits, mores, and norms of Southern Appalachia. Insular and suspicious of outsiders and their foolish ways, they clung to the old ways and maintained strong family and clan ties. Education was usually limited to the one-room schools; few children went beyond eighth grade, and the illiteracy rate was high.” (This statement was based on an interview with the author, by Elam and Helen Dohner, that was published in 1986.) (https://bic-history.org/journal-articles/december-2016-2)

A complete biography of the writer was written by Dianne Watkins Stuart and published by Kentucky Press in 1998.

Janice Holt Giles and Henry Giles are buried at the Caldwell Chapel Separate Baptist Church cemetery in Knifley.

Her Writing

Many of her books are historical fiction, largely pertaining to the Kentucky frontier. Her first novel (The Enduring Hills) was written at the age of 41, while she was a secretary for Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. She wrote her second book (Miss Willie) four years later.

By the time she published her sixth novel, she had become a sensation. According to kentuckypress.com, her “…works had accumulated sales of nearly two million copies. Between 1950 and 1975, she wrote twenty-four books, most of which were bestsellers, regularly reviewed in the New York Times, and selected for inclusion in popular book clubs. Her picture held pride of place in her literary agent’s New York office, alongside those of Willa Cather, H.G. Wells, and Edith Wharton…”

To see a list of her books, click here: https://www.fantasticfiction.com/g/janice-holt-giles.

The Place

The writer’s log cabin home at 360 Spout Springs Road in rural Knifley. Preserved by the Giles Society, it is usually open on weekend afternoons, seasonally. For information, we recommend: https://campbellsvilleky.com/listings/janice-holt-giles-home. Knifley is in Adair County, which has a population of approximately 19,000.

Scholars can find her manuscripts, correspondence, etc. at Western Kentucky University Library at 1906 College Heights Boulevard in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

The Janice Holt Giles log cabin home is the final stop of our Kentucky Author Adventures Trail.

Patricia Smart