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 Award—Barbara Gittings Literature Award from the American Library Association, the Bywater Prize for Fiction, and the Golden Crown Literary Society’s Award for General Fiction. 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 Phelps, innumerable friends, and loving former partners.
- ALA Stonewall Book Award/Barbara Gittings Literature Award 2014
- Ben Franklin Book Award Silver Medal Winner
- Bywater Prize for Fiction
- Golden Crown Literary Award for General Fiction
- Shelf Unbound Best Indie Book Finalist
- Foreword INDIES LGBT Book of the Year Finalist
Heekin Foundation Award Finalist
- Dana Awards Finalist
- Story Oaks Prize Finalist
“Let this one seep into your mind and work its magic on you. It’s the superb craftsmanship of a master storyteller at work.”—Out in Print
“Love of storytelling is evident in her masterful debut novel. . . . Art on Fire is alive with passion, humor, and real truth.” —Lambda Literary Review
“No other story will ever affect me the way this one has because Hilary Sloin has created a literary masterpiece that cannot be duplicated.” —The Lesbian Review
“It is difficult to believe this is Hilary Sloin’s debut novel, so thoughtfully constructed it is and so intensely readable. This reader was so convinced that Francesca de Silva was a real painter until combing history of art books and even Wikipedia proved otherwise that Sloin caught me thoroughly.”— Literary Aficionado
Read more tributes to Hilary from the writing community here:
Lambda Literary, “Playwright, Novelist, and Essayist Hilary Sloin, 55, has Died”
Lambda Literary, “Art on Fire: Remembering Hilary Sloin” by Susan Stinson
American Library Association, GLBT Roundtable, “Writer Hilary Sloin dies at her home in Ashfield, Massachusetts”
Women and Words, “In Memoriam: Award-winning writer Hilary Sloin” by Andi Marquette