Hilary Michelle 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.
The daughter of Arnold David Spiegel and Susan Hadelman Sloin, Hilary 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 completed book, Art on Fire (Bywater Press, 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 received the 2014 Stonewall Book Awards – Barbara Gittings Literature Award Prize from the American Librarian’s Association. 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. While continuing to write, Hilary also found a second career in the world of antique dealing and restoration, as co-owner, with her lifelong friend, Jan Behr, of Stray Dog Antiques in Ashfield, MA. As in everything she pursued in life, Hilary devoted her brilliance, limitless curiosity and painstaking dedication to detail to this new craft and was particularly proud of the workshop she built to restore and refinish antiques. In her last years, as she struggled increasingly with her own lifelong mental illness, Hilary became a vocal advocate for those suffering from mental illness and suicidality.
To friends, family, and loved ones, Hilary was known as a beautiful, fun, loving, and endlessly talented individual who excelled at just about every thing or artistic pursuit to which she put her mind. We will miss her warmth, wicked sense of humor, and intelligence, and remember her, in no particular order, for her love of: coffee, books, Beckett, hand-rolled cigarettes, Nabokov, dancing, Bonnie Raitt, Kafka, fountain pens, the Grateful Dead, typewriters, Ray Charles, flannel shirts, Flannery O’Connor, guitars, and her two most-beloved dogs, Zen and Pluto. May these memories be a source of strength.
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 Recovery Learning Center in Greenfield, MA, as per her last requests.