Jesse Stuart

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Jesse Stuart
Jesse Stuart.png
BornJesse Hilton Stuart
(1906-08-08)August 8, 1906
Riverton, Kentucky, United States
DiedFebruary 17, 1984(1984-02-17) (aged 77)
Ironton, Ohio, US
OccupationAuthor, educator
Alma materLincoln Memorial University Vanderbilt University
Notable worksTaps for Private Tussie
Notable awardsGuggenheim Award, 1937
Thomas Jefferson Memorial Award, 1943
Poet Laureate of Kentucky, 1954
SpouseNaomi Deane Norris
RelativesMitchell Stuart (father)
Martha Stuart (mother)

Jesse Hilton Stuart (August 8, 1906 – February 17, 1984) was an American writer, school teacher, and school administrator who is known for his short stories, poetry, and novels as well as non-fiction autobiographical works set in central Appalachia. Born and raised in Greenup County, Kentucky, Stuart relied heavily on the rural locale of northeastern Kentucky for his writings.[1] Stuart was named the poet laureate of Kentucky in 1954.[2]

Early life[edit]

Stuart was born near Riverton, Greenup County, Kentucky, to Mitchell and Martha (Hilton) Stuart on August 8, 1906.[3][4] Stuart served in the US Navy during World War II but did not see combat as his mission in his life.[5] In 1939, Stuart married Naomi Deane Norris, a school teacher. They settled in W Hollow and had one daughter, Jessica Jane.[6]


After being denied admission at three colleges, Stuart was finally accepted at and attended Lincoln Memorial University, located in Harrogate, Tennessee. After graduating he returned to his home area and taught at Warnock High School in Greenup, Kentucky. Later he was appointed principal at McKell High School, but resigned after one year to attend graduate school at Vanderbilt University, where Edwin Mims was one of his professors.[7] He then served as superintendent of the Greenup County Schools before ending his career as an English teacher at Portsmouth High School in Portsmouth, Ohio.[8]


One day while Stuart was plowing in the field, he stopped and wrote the first line of a sonnet: "I am a farmer singing at the plow," the first line of the 703 sonnets he would collect in Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow (1934). The book was described by Irish poet George William Russell (who wrote poetry under the name of AE) as the greatest work of poetry to come out of America since Walt Whitman published Leaves of Grass. Stuart was named poet laureate for the Commonwealth of Kentucky in 1954, and in 1961 he received the annual award from the American Academy of Poets.


Stuart's first novel was Trees of Heaven (1940). Set in rural Kentucky, the novel tells the story of Anse Bushman, who loves working the land and wants more land. Stuart's style is simple and sparse. Taps for Private Tussie (1943) is perhaps his most popular novel, selling more than a million copies in only two years. The novel also received critical praise and won the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Award for the best Southern book of the year. In 1974, Gale Research (in American Fiction, 1900-1950) identified Jesse Stuart as one of the forty-four novelists in the first half of the 20th century with high critical acclaim. Jesse Stuart was the second youngest of that group (William Saroyan was one year younger).

Short stories[edit]

Stuart published about 460 short stories. He wrote his first short story "Nest Egg" when he was a sophomore in high school in 1923. The story is of a rooster at his farm, whose behavior was so dominant that it began attracting hens from other farms, leading to conflict with the neighbors. Twenty years later, he submitted the story unchanged to the Atlantic Monthly, which accepted the story and published it in February 1943; it was later collected in Tales from Plum Grove Hills.

One of his most anthologized stories is "Split Cherry Tree," first published in Esquire, January 1939. In this story, a high school teacher in a one-room schoolhouse keeps a boy after school to work and pay for damage he did to a cherry tree. The boy's uneducated father comes to school to argue with the teacher, but comes to appreciate the value of higher education.

Enduring classic autobiography[edit]

The theme of education appears often in Stuart's books. He described the role that teaching played in his life in The Thread that Runs So True (1949), though he changed the names of places and people. He first taught school in rural Kentucky at the age of 16 at Cane Creek Elementary School, which became Lonesome Valley in his book. The Thread that Runs So True (1949) has become a classic of American education. Ruel Foster, a professor at West Virginia University, noted in 1968 that the book had good sales in its first year. At the time, he wrote, sales for the book had gone up in each successive year, an astonishing feat for any book. The book has remained continuously in print for more than 50 years.


Stuart died February 17, 1984 at Jo-Lin Nursing Home, near his boyhood home, in Ironton, Ohio. He was 77 years old.

Jesse Stuart State Nature Preserve[edit]

The natural settings of W Hollow were prominent throughout Stuart's writings. Prior to his death he donated 714 acres (2.89 km2) of woodlands in W Hollow to the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves. The Jesse Stuart State Nature Preserve is dedicated to protecting the legacy of Stuart, and ensures that a significant portion of W Hollow will remain undeveloped in perpetuity. The trail system is open to the public from dawn to dusk all year long.[9][10]

Books by Jesse Stuart[edit]


  • Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow, E.P. Dutton & Co., 1934
  • Album of Destiny, E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1944
  • Kentucky is My Land, Dutton, 1952
  • Hold April, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1962


  • Beyond Dark Hills, E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1938; Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1996, ISBN 978-0-945084-53-2
  • The Thread that Runs So True. C. Scribner's Sons. 1950. ISBN 9780871296771.; Dramatic Publishing, 1958, ISBN 978-0-87129-677-1
  • The Year of My Rebirth 1956; Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1991, ISBN 978-0-945084-17-4
  • To Teach, To Love, World Pub. Co., 1970; Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1987, ISBN 978-0-945084-02-0
  • My World. University Press of Kentucky. 1975. ISBN 978-0-8131-0211-5.


For Young Readers[edit]

Short story collections[edit]

Books about Jesse Stuart[edit]

  • Jesse Stuart: His Life and Works, by Everetta Love Blair (University of South Carolina Press, 1967)
  • Jesse Stuart, by Ruel E. Foster (Twayne, 1968)
  • Jesse Stuart: An Extraordinary Life, by James M. Gifford and Erin R. Kazee (Jesse Stuart Foundation, 2010)
  • Jesse: The Biography of an American Writer, Jesse Hilton Stuart, by H. Edward Richardson (McGraw-Hill, 1984)
  • New Harvest: Forgotten Stories of Kentucky's Jesse Stuart, by David R. Palmore (Jesse Stuart Foundation, 2003)


  1. ^ Peyton, Dave (May 5, 1975). "Conversations with Jesse Stuart". The Huntington Advertiser. Archived from the original on 19 May 2006. Retrieved 28 November 2009.
  2. ^ "Guide to the Jesse Stuart Collection". Hutchins Library Appalachian Bibliography. Berea, Kentucky: Berea College. 2009. Retrieved 28 November 2009.
  3. ^ "Register of Jesse Stuart Papers" (PDF) (PDF). Huntington, West Virginia: Special Collections Department James E. Morrow Library Marshall University. 1986. Retrieved 22 December 2009.
  4. ^ Ballard, Jamie (October 5, 1997). "Jesse Stuart". KYLIT. Eastern Kentucky University. Archived from the original on 30 August 2009. Retrieved 28 November 2009.
  5. ^ Jesse Stuart, 5 August 2014, retrieved 18 July 2015
  6. ^ Wedemeyer, Dee (August 18, 1985). "Kentucky's Living Fiction". The New York Times. New York City: The New York Times Company. Retrieved 22 December 2009.
  7. ^ "Dr. Mims Dies; Noted Educator of Vanderbilt. Health Declined After Hip Fracture; Services Tomorrow". The Nashville Tennessean. September 16, 1959. pp. 1–2 – via
  8. ^ "Author, Poet, Educator Jesse Stuart Dies". Portsmouth Daily Times. 1984-02-22.
  9. ^ "Jesse Stuart SNP". Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves. Archived from the original on August 11, 2010. Retrieved 28 November 2009.
  10. ^ Brown, Michael H. (2007). "Jesse Stuart State Nature Preserve". Hiking Kentucky: A Guide to Kentucky's Greatest Hiking Adventures. Falcon Guide: Where to hike (2 ed.). Globe Pequot. pp. 32, 33, 34, 35. ISBN 0-7627-3650-X. Retrieved November 28, 2009.

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