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Janice Holt Giles

Kentuckian. Literary Trailblazer. 


Kentucky Author

Noted primarily for her historical novels set in the hills of Kentucky, Janice Holt Giles wrote with historical and cultural accuracy about the relationships between frontier settlers, Native Americans, and African Americans as they adapted to life in the West.

Giles' writing describes the geography of Kentucky and its native flora and fauna with rich, vibrant detail.

Inducted into the Kentucky Writer's Hall of Fame in 2014, Janice Holt Giles wrote twenty-four books during her career.

Adair Countian

In 1949, Janice moved with her husband Henry Giles to the Knifley community in Adair County, where she lived for the rest of her life.  After a period of adjustment to life on the Ridge, Janice quickly became a student of the people, culture, and terrain of the Appalachian foothills.

JHG Cabin.jpg

"you've not seen nothing yet...

...we're just now getting to the Kentucky part."

the kentuckians (1953)

Henry Giles and Janice Holt Giles smiling at each other while Henry plays the guitar.

Appalachian Culture

Life in rural Adair County was nothing like the city - modern conveniences did not exist.  Janice and Henry's first home did not have electricity or running water.  Food was grown or raised, not purchased.  Water had to be carried from a nearby spring or well.  Laundry and other chores took a full day to complete, not just a couple of hours.  


However, neighbors and family took care of each other, and would not let others suffer from hunger, cold, or illness if it could be helped.  Appalachian culture was, and still is, grounded by a spirit of self-preservation and independence.  Folklore passed down through the generations dictates when to plant crops, wean babies, or put shingles on a roof.  Living off of the land while respecting nature's gifts and glory is key to life in the country. 


"On the table at the end of the couch is a stack of magazines, a dozen or so books...a cup of coffee, and Henry's drawing instruments. But that's home. that's what makes it home, and when you evaluate happiness in terms of comfortable living, it takes remarkably few gadgets."

40 Acres and no mule (1967)

Janice, the Librarian

A Love of Libraries

Libraries always held a special place in Janice Holt Giles' heart.  As a student in Altus, Arkansas, she worked at the local Carnegie Library to pay for her books and clothing.  Janice started by shelving books and eventually became the assistant Librarian, working after school until closing time.  

Janice performed extensive research for her historical fiction novels at local libraries in Kentucky, as well as at the Kentucky Museum in Bowling Green.  

She was a Friends of the Library member and patron of the Adair County Public Library.  In 1979, the current library building was dedicated in her honor. 


Her books are available for checkout in the Kentucky section of the library's collection.

Janice Holt Giles Written Works

Piney Ridge

  • The Enduring Hills (1950)

  • Miss Willie (1951)

  • Tara's Healing (1951)


The Kentuckians

  • The Kentuckians (1953)

  • Hannah Fowler (1956)

  • The Land Beyond the Mountains (1959)

  • The Believers (1957)

  • Johnny Osage (1960)

  • Voyage to Santa Fe (1962)

  • The Great Adventure (1966)

  • Run Me a River (1964)

  • Six-horse Hitch (1969)

Non Series

  • Harbin's Ridge (1951)

  • Hill Man (1954)

  • The Plum Thicket (1954)

  • Savannah (1972)

  • Shady Grove (1978)

  • Act of Contrition (2001)



  • 40 Acres and No Mule (1952)

  • A Little Better than Plumb: The Biography of a House (1963)

  • The Damned Engineers (1970)

  • Around Our House (1971)

  • The Kinta Years (1973)



  • Wellspring (1975)


Additional Sources to Explore

Cox, Bonnie Jean. “Janice Holt Giles.” In The Kentucky Encyclopedia, edited by John E. Kleber. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1992.

Giles, Henry E., and Janice Holt Giles. Around Our House. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971.

Giles, Janice Holt. The Kinta Years: An Oklahoma Childhood. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973.

Janice Holt Giles Collection. Manuscripts and Folklife Archives. Kentucky Library and Museum. Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky. Finding aid online at (accessed February 13, 2023).

Stuart, Dianne Watkins. Janice Holt Giles: A Writer’s Life. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1998.

Watkins, Dianne, ed. Hello, Janice: The Wartime Letters of Henry Giles. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1992

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