Authors: Jesse Stuart

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American short-story writer and novelist

Author Works

Short Fiction:

Head o’W-Hollow, 1936

Men of the Mountains, 1941

Tales from the Plum Grove Hills, 1946

Clearing in the Sky, and Other Stories, 1950

Plowshare in Heaven: Tales True and Tall from the Kentucky Hills, 1958

Save Every Lamb, 1964

My Land Has a Voice, 1966

Come Gentle Spring, 1969

Come Back to the Farm, 1971

Votes Before Breakfast, 1974

The Best-Loved Short Stories of Jesse Stuart, 1982

Long Fiction:

Trees of Heaven, 1940

Taps for Private Tussie, 1943

Foretaste of Glory, 1946

Hie to the Hunters, 1950

The Good Spirit of Laurel Ridge, 1953

Daughter of the Legend, 1965

Mr. Gallion’s School, 1967

The Land Beyond the River, 1973

Cradle of the Copperheads, 1988

Poetry:

Harvest of Youth, 1930

Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow, 1934

Album of Destiny, 1944

Kentucky Is My Land, 1952

Hold April, 1962

The World of Jesse Stuart: Selected Poems, 1975

Nonfiction:

Beyond Dark Hills, 1938

The Thread That Runs So True, 1949

The Year of My Rebirth, 1956

God’s Oddling, 1960

To Teach, to Love, 1970

My World, 1975

The Kingdom Within: A Spiritual Autobiography, 1979

Lost Sandstones and Lonely Skies, and Other Essays, 1979

If I Were Seventeen Again, and Other Essays, 1980

Jesse Stuart on Education, 1992 (J. R. Le Master, editor)

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Mongrel Mettle: The Autobiography of a Dog, 1944

The Beatinest Boy, 1953

A Penny’s Worth of Character, 1954

Red Mule, 1955

The Rightful Owner, 1960

Andy Finds a Way, 1961

Biography

Jesse Hilton Stuart was one of the more remarkable and original writers in American literature. Amazingly prolific, with more than sixty books in a variety of genres, Stuart produced work that was largely uneven. It has been as much admired by a broad popular audience as it has been maligned, or ignored, by the mainstream of literary opinion. Born in a log cabin in W-Hollow in the hills of eastern Kentucky, Stuart was the first in his family to finish high school. He worked his way through Lincoln Memorial University, a small mountain college in Tennessee, from which he graduated in 1929.{$I[AN]9810000823}{$I[A]Stuart, Jesse}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Stuart, Jesse}{$I[tim]1907;Stuart, Jesse}

Jesse Stuart

(Library of Congress)

After two years of teaching and administrative experience in his native region, he attended Vanderbilt University, where he pursued but did not complete an M.A. in English. He was particularly drawn to Vanderbilt because of the presence there of the Fugitive-Agrarians, such poets, writers, and teachers as Donald Davidson, John Crowe Ransom, and Robert Penn Warren. Although Stuart sometimes seemed to confuse the moral, aesthetic, and philosophical bases of Nashville Agrarian thought with mere farming, he was certainly influenced profoundly by what he took to be the group’s back-to-the-farm and anti-industrial arguments, as well as by its emphasis on the southern sense of place, family, community, and language. The best record of Stuart’s vision of these years is found in his first and finest autobiographical volume, Beyond Dark Hills, which was originally submitted as a term paper at Vanderbilt.

Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow, Stuart’s first important book, appeared in 1934. This rough collection of 703 sonnets is a work of genuine force and energy. Stuart begins the volume with an announcement: “I am a farmer singing at the plow.” He then carries the reader through the cycles of the seasons, the land, and the lives, loves, and deaths of the mountain country and people. The stance he assumes here–the primitive mountain bard, the poet of Appalachia–would remain his typical persona and most effective voice throughout his career. He had been profoundly influenced by the work of Robert Burns, and, with the appearance of this volume, Stuart was hailed as the American Burns. His later volumes of poetry never lived up to the power and freshness of this work.

With the publication of Head o’ W-Hollow, Stuart’s first collection of stories, he was hailed as an important writer of fiction with substantial gifts of humor, observation, and creative use of language based on mountain dialect and idiom. Through many volumes over the next four decades Stuart’s fiction evoked this hillbilly world, until W-Hollow seemed, to some observers, to have earned a place akin to William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County in the literary geography of the United States. Trees of Heaven, his first novel, renders this world fully as it works out a love story between a squatter’s daughter, Subrinea Tussie, and a landowner’s son, Tarvin Bushman, against the thematic background of the squatter-landowner conflict. Through the patriarchal landowner Anse Bushman, Stuart powerfully renders what may be his single great theme: love of land, of farming, of drawing strength from the earth. Taps for Private Tussie, Stuart’s next novel, continues the hilarious chronicle of the Tussies, the indolent hill clan committed to avoiding work, to eating, drinking, and dancing all night long. Immensely popular, this comic novel was a best-seller and received the Thomas Jefferson Award for the best southern book of 1943.

Much of his life Stuart was a teacher, in the country schools of Kentucky and in colleges and universities as far afield as Egypt, where he taught for a year at the University of Cairo. Stuart thought teaching “the greatest profession under the sun,” and in The Thread That Runs So True he paid tribute to the profession. This award-winning autobiographical hymn to teaching has at its center the dramatic presence of a man who walked twenty miles to carry a suitcase loaded with books to his poor mountain students. It was declared “the best book on education” written in the twentieth century by the president of the National Education Association, and it remains Stuart’s most popular book.

In 1954 Stuart was named poet laureate of Kentucky. In the same year he suffered a severe heart attack. The Year of My Rebirth is his journal of the struggle back to life from that near-fatal incident. It is also a spiritual autobiography which weaves together his love of place and a motif of resurrection. Another strong presence in this meditation on life and death is his father, who had died shortly after Stuart’s heart attack. A few years later, in God’s Oddling, Stuart paid moving tribute to his father as farmer, earth poet, “giant of the earth.”

Conservationist, farmer, teacher, and writer, Stuart lived a rich, eventful life. He imprinted W-Hollow deeply in the literary imagination of millions of readers. As a farmer-conservationist who eventually owned one thousand acres of his beloved valley, he planted thousands of trees, leaving his mark on the landscape of Kentucky. After his death in 1984 Stuart’s bequest to the people established the Jesse Stuart Nature Preserve. Balanced assessment of Stuart’s literary achievement was complicated during his lifetime by the uncritical enthusiasm of the popular press. His position as a major twentieth century local colorist is secure, but he may, with the passage of time, come to be seen in a more positive and less limited sense as a genuine voice of Appalachian consciousness and as one of the more important regional writers in American literature.

BibliographyBlair, Everetta Love. Jesse Stuart: His Life and Works. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1967. Blair opens with a brief account of Stuart’s life and background. Subsequent chapters survey his poetry, short stories, novels, and other accomplishments. General discussions provide insight into particular works and overall trends.Foster, Ruel E. Jesse Stuart. New York: Twayne, 1968. One of the earliest, and with a few exceptions, one of the best of the critical studies. Contains biographical information as well as extensive critiques on Stuart’s work up to the date of publication.Le Master, J. R. ed. Jesse Stuart: Selected Criticism. St. Petersburg, Fla.: Valkyrie Press, 1978. A good start to Stuart criticism, this volume includes previously published articles by different scholars. Excellent introduction to Stuart’s work.Le Master, J. R. and Mary Washington Clark, eds. Jesse Stuart: Essays on His Work. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1977. These essays (written specifically for this volume) provide critical perspectives on different facets and forms of Stuart’s work, including poetry, short fiction, and novels, as well as his humor and use of folklore. The editors indicate that a primary purpose here is to bring into sharper focus Stuart’s use of multiple perspectives.Lowe, Jimmy. Jesse Stuart: The Boy from the Dark Hills. Edited by Jerry A. Herndon, James M. Gifford, and Chuck D. Charles. Ashland, Ky.: Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1990. A good, updated biography of Stuart.Pennington, Lee. The Dark Hills of Jesse Stuart. Cincinnati: Harvest Press, 1967. Pennington discusses Stuart’s system of symbolism as it emerges in his early poetry and later through his novels. Argues that Stuart is far more than a regionalist; rather, he is an important creative writer and spokesman not only for a region but for all humankind.Richardson, H. Edward. Jesse: The Biography of an American Writer–Jesse Hilton Stuart. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984. This inclusive study, printed in the year of Stuart’s death, contains some photographs. Sensitively written, it offers invaluable reading for anyone with more than a passing interest in Stuart’s life and work.Thompson, Edgar H. “A Cure for the Malaise of the Dislocated Southerner: The Writing of Jesse Stuart.” Journal of the Appalachian Studies Association 3 (1991): 146-151. A good survey of Stuart emphasizing his regional heritage.Towles, Donald B. “Twenty Stories from Jesse Stuart.” The Courier-Journal, September 20, 1998, p. O51. A review of Tales from the Plum Grove Hills; surveys the themes and subjects of the stories and comments on their use of Eastern Kentucky dialect.Ward, William S. A Literary History of Kentucky. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1988. Includes a biographical-critical discussion of Stuart’s work, pointing out that Stuart deals with people as individuals rather than in sociological terms; claims that a principle source of his success with the short story was the zest with which he carried a story through in a flood of detail.
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