In Memoriam: Award-winning writer Hilary Sloin

Greetings, Women and Words family. It is with heavy hearts that we inform you of the death of Hilary Sloin, who was part of the Bywater Books family.

We were alerted by Salem West of Bywater and below, we are sharing Hilary’s obituary that Salem passed along to us.

Lambda Literary observed that “Sloin’s smartly observed writing explored lesbian identity, the riotous nature of desire, and the struggles of being an artist. Never one to shy away from the darker aspects of the human condition, Sloin tempered somber themes with a razor sharp, sardonic wit.”

We were fortunate enough to learn about Hilary’s creative process behind her novel, Art on Fire, which won the Bywater Prize for Fiction, when she stopped by Women and Words in 2013 and described how she fell in love with her characters.

With Art on Fire, which was my first attempt at a novel after many years of writing plays and stories, I fell in love first with Isabella, the protagonist’s mentally ill and acutely intelligent sister. Isabella is so much smarter and wittier than I have ever proved to be and, of course, this fascinates me. How can I create a character who surpasses me by leaps and bounds? Soon I fell in love with Francesca, too, but that was for entirely different reasons: I had created my dream lover: a cowboy in girl’s clothing, the one who cannot be possessed, who oozes with the need to express herself but cannot. And again, I was fascinated because to this day I am still not sure whether Francesca’s paintings were any good or whether, as some of the critics in the book postulated, she was simply in the right place at the right time, an icon of pop culture.

Lambda Literary interviewed her in 2012 about her novel, of which she said,

I am a very naked writer. I think I’m so clever and all that, but it’s not hard to see why my characters do the things they do and my opinions on academia are apparent, as is the truth: that I think the darkness is the funniest place of all if you can survive it.

Condolences to all who knew and loved her.

Hilary Sloin
(December 18, 1963 – June 11, 2019)

Hilary Sloin, playwright, writer, and essayist died at her home in Ashfield, Massachusetts on June 11, 2019. She was 55 years old. The cause of death was suicide, following a lifelong struggle with mental illness.

She was born on Dec. 18, 1963, in New Haven, Connecticut, a town captured with sardonic intimacy in many of her writings. After escaping from the nearby suburbs, she went to Marlboro College in Vermont to study creative writing, before completing graduate study in playwriting at New York University. Her first major play, Lust and Pity, dealt openly with lesbianism, love, jealousy, and suicide—all wrapped in the blackest of humor. The play received mainstage productions in New York, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco and beyond.

Hilary’s only novel, Art on Fire (Bywater Books, 2012), excavated the life and creative work of Francesca deSilva. Pseudo-biographic in form, the book chronicles the life of a fictitious, young, renegade painter who became a cult sensation before perishing in a suspicious fire. Set, in part, against the backdrop of the post-immigrant Jewish world of New Haven, Sloin’s work drew ironically on the familial storms of that community as an avenue into deSilva’s struggles with artistic creation, love, lesbianism, Jewishness, and mental illness—themes she engaged openly and bravely in all of her writings. Critically acclaimed, Art on Fire was awarded the 2014 Stonewall Book Awards—Barbara Gittings Literature Award from the American Library Association, the Bywater Prize for Fiction, and the Golden Crown Literary Society’s Award for Debut Author. Like its pseudo-autobiographical heroine, the work has become a cult classic in its own right.

Since moving to the Northampton, MA area in 1993, Hilary continued to write and publish short stories and left several in-progress novels. Hilary became a vocal advocate for those suffering from mental illness and suicidality. Hilary is survived by her siblings, Felicia and Andrew Sloin (Elizabeth Heath), her nephew, Elijah Rain Phelps, innumerable friends, and loving former partners. The family asks that those wishing to remember Hilary please consider making donations to the Western Mass Recovery Learning Community Greenfield Center in Greenfield, MA, as per her last request.

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6 comments

  1. It’s always hard to “like” an obituary, but I will go back up and do that when I’m through with this comment because I have to when one is honest about suicide. It’s a tough thing to write about with honesty and openness and transparency while still offering some privacy to the family. This article seemed to walk that balance. I worked at a drop-in center for adults with mental illnesses where all of the staff had mental illnesses of our own and eventually we lost our boss, who was a dear friend, to suicide. What I learned from Josie’s death was that it was not a weakness nor a failing, She had fought a terribly hard fight for forty-four years and been victorious. Then she wasn’t one day. And no matter what anyone says to me, I can’t imagine that any God gracious enough to create humans would judge them on the basis of the last few days so pain-filled as to lead to suicide so that is a bogus fear as well. I didn’t know Hilary Sloin nor her novel, but I will soon. Thank you for a tribute that left me with a heart saddened for the loss not just of a burning talent, but of an individual who thought enough of her fellow humans to direct donations to an organization like the RLC. Thoughtful and kind.

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  2. I echo Ona Marae’s comment regarding clicking the “like” symbol for an obituary. In fact, I echo everything Ona has expressed. If Hilary Sloin’s death reminds us to be empathic listeners to those in our midst who dwell in pain-filled places, her leaving will not have been in vain.

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  3. My condolences to all who knew and loved her. I’m sorry to say I’d never come across her writings or heard of her before but I feel empathy for her situation. Depression and dealing with being “different” can be so hard. God bless you Hilary and may you rest in peace 💕

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  4. Hey Andi,Sad to read this terrible news.  I interviewed Hilary years ago for my radio show, about Art on Fire. I think I still have that interview as an MP3 file.I knew she was chronically depressed.  Still, too bad and a waste of brilliant talent.I know she was Jewish, like me, and I think I will dedicate the portion of the service I am chanting in synagogue on Saturday to her.Thanks for letting us all know.  It is important for lesbians to be remembered.Thanks for all you do Laura Yaros in Montreal, Canada Sent from my Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

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