Born: March 28, 1905
Franklin County, Arkansas
Died: June 1, 1979
Adair County, Kentucky
Janice Holt Giles was born in Arkansas, the second of four children of educators John Albert Holt and Lucy Elizabeth McGraw Holt. She didn’t begin her first novel until 1946, when she was 41 years old, and did not finish it until four years later. She wrote Enduring Hills (1950), a historical fiction novel, while employed full-time as a secretary for Dr. Louis Sherrill, dean of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
Janice married her first husband, Otto Moore, in 1927 and divorced him in 1939. She met an Army sergeant, Henry Giles, on a bus ride in 1943. They corresponded during World War II and were married in 1945 after Henry was discharged from the Army. In 1946, they moved near Henry’s ancestral land at Knifley in Adair County.
Between 1950 and 1975, she wrote 26 books, most of which were bestsellers, regularly reviewed in The New York Times, and selected for inclusion in popular book clubs. She published almost a book per year from 1950 to1975, some years publishing multiple books (three in 1951 and two in 1954). These included 19 novels, six non-fiction works, and one collection of both fiction and non-fiction. There are numerous reports that her collective sales reached more than 3 million copies.
“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,” wrote Dianne Watkins Stuart, author of Janice Holt Giles: A Writer’s Life (University Press of Kentucky, 1998).
Giles’s historical fiction covered a wide range of geography in pursuit of her depiction of early American pioneer life, including Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. Her historical characters included Daniel Boone, Sam Houston and James Harrod. One critic suggested that at the core of her work is a certain democracy in depicting the complexity of relationships between white settlers, Native Americans, and African Americans.
Stuart, her biographer, revealed that Giles often humbly professed to be “just a good storyteller.” But she was much more than that. She was a keen observer of life with great sensitivity, an ear for language, and a superb imagination.
Janice and Henry Giles, who died in 1986, are buried at the Caldwell Chapel Separate Baptist Church Cemetery in Knifley, Kentucky.
The Enduring Hills. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1950.
Miss Willie. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1951.
Tara’s Healing. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1951.
Harbin’s Ridge. (Co-written with Henry Giles.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1951.
Forty Acres and No Mule.(Non-fiction.) Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1952.
The Kentuckians. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1953.
The Plum Thicket. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1954.
Hill Man. (Published under pseudonym John Garth.) New York: Pyramid Books, 1954.
Hannah Fowler.Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1956.
The Believers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957.
Land Beyond the Mountains. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958.
Johnny Osage. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960.
Savanna. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961.
Voyage to Santa Fe. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962.
A Little Better Than Plumb. (Non-fiction, co-written with Henry Giles.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1963.
Run Me a River. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1964.
The G.I. Journal of Sergeant Giles (Non-fiction co-written with Henry Giles.)Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965.
The Great Adventure.Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1966.
Shady Grove. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967.
Six Horse Hitch.Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969.
The Damned Engineers (Non-Fiction). Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970.
Around Our House (Non-fiction co-written with Henry Giles..) Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971.
The Kinta Years (Non-Fiction). Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1973.
Wellspring (Collection of fiction and non-fiction.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1975.
Act of Contrition (Novel written in 1950s). Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2001.
Janice Holt Giles papers, University of Kentucky Special Collections.