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From The Kentucky Encyclopedia –
Jesse Hilton Stuart, writer, was born on August 8, 1906, in northeastern Kentucky's Greenup County, where his parents, Mitchell and Martha (Hilton) Stuart, were tenant farmers. Stuart grew up with a strong appreciation for the life lived close to the soil and with a keen awareness of the hardships of rural poverty. Mitchell Stuart could neither read nor write, and Martha had only a second-grade education, but they taught their two sons and three daughters to value education. All the children became college graduates and schoolteachers, with Jesse leading the way. He graduated from Greenup High School in 1926 and from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, in 1929. He then returned to Greenup County to teach.
By the end of the 1930s, Stuart had served as a teacher in Greenup County's one-room schools and as high school principal and county school superintendent. These experiences served as the basis for his autobiographical book, The Thread That Runs So True (1949), called by the president of the National Education Association "the best book on education written in the last fifty years." The book helped to dramatize the need for educational reform in Kentucky. By the time it appeared, Stuart had long since left the classroom to devote his time to lecturing and writing. He returned as a high school principal in 1956-57, taught at the University of Nevada in Reno in the 1958 summer term, and served on the faculty of the American University of Cairo in 1960-61.
Stuart began writing stories and poems about the hill people of his section of Kentucky while still a college student. During a year of graduate study at Vanderbilt University in Nashville in 1931-32, Donald Davidson, a poet who was one of his professors, encouraged him to continue writing. Following the private publication of Stuart's Harvest of Youth (poems) in 1930, Man With a Bull-Tongue Plow, poems that celebrate his people and the natural world, appeared in 1934 and was widely praised. Mark Van Doren, for instance, called Stuart an "American Robert Burns."
His autobiography, Beyond Dark Hills, was published in 1938 and his first novel, Trees of Heaven, in 1940. His first short story collection was Head O' W-Hollow (1936), followed by Men of the Mountains (1941) and by more than a dozen other collections in Stuart's lifetime. His published stories -- in magazines and in book form -- number more than five hundred. Stuart also published more than a dozen novels and autobiographical works. Taps for Private Tussie (1943) is an award-winning satirical look at New Deal relief and its effect on the hill man's self-reliance, and God's Oddling (1960) is a biography of Stuart's father. Stuart's books of poetry also include Album of Destiny (1944) and Kentucky is My Land (1952). He was designated poet laureate of Kentucky in 1954 and was made a fellow of the Academy of American Poets in 1961. Hold April: New Poems was published in 1962. Stuart also lectured widely for many years, particularly on the subject of education and its value, and wrote a number of highly regarded books for children and youth. Prominent among the latter are The Beatinest Boy (1953) and A Penny's Worth of Character (1954). Hie to the Hunters, a novel published in 1950, is a celebration of rural life that has been popular with high school readers.
Stuart suffered a major heart attack on the lecture circuit in 1954. During his convalescence, he produced daily journals that were the basis for The Year of My Rebirth (1956), a book recording his rediscovery of the joy of life.
Stuart married Naomi Deane Norris on October 14, 1939; they had one child, Jessica Jane. Stuart placed many of his manuscripts, letters, and other memorabilia at Murray State University in 1960, and he authorized the establishment of the Jesse Stuart Foundation in 1979. The foundation, headquartered in Ashland, Kentucky, controls the rights to Stuart's literary works and is charged with oversight of W-Hollow, which Stuart and his wife, Naomi, donated to Kentucky as a nature preserve in 1980. Stuart had acquired over seven hundred acres in his native valley over the years, in fulfillment of the dream of someday owning all the farms that his parents had worked on shares in his youth. W-Hollow shows evidence of Stuart's lifelong devotion to conservation in the luxuriance of its fields and timber.
Stuart died on February 17, 1984, and was buried in Plum Grove Cemetery in Greenup County.
JERRY A. HERNDON, Entry Author
Selected Sources from UK Libraries:
Stuart, Jesse. Head O' W-Hollow. 1st ed. New York, N.Y.: E.P. Dutton, 1936. Print. SOLINET/ASERL Cooperative Microfilming Project (NEH PA-23510-00) ; SOL MN08964.07 KUK.
PS3537.T92516 H430 1936, Young Library - 5th Floor
Stuart, Jesse. Man with a Bull-tongue Plow. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1934. Print. SOLINET/ASERL Cooperative Microfilming Project (NEH PS-20317) ; SOL MN05028.03 KUK.
PS3537.T92516 M3 1934, Young Library - 5th Floor
Jesse Stuart, the Man : Poet, Novelist, Short Story Writer, Educator. Ashland, Ky.: Economy Printers, 1968. Print.
B St92ma, Special Collections Research Center - Biography Collection