Of all the voices from Eastern Kentucky, Jesse Stuart’s has been spread more widely, read more often than any other. Kentucky’s poet laureate is a man of the land, but even more, there runs through his verbal art a love of country, pride of belonging and support of the work ethic promoted by our forefathers 200 years ago today . . .
Stuart takes great pride that he remains virtually in the same hollow where he was born; that he has been able to stand back and take a view of those where he was raised, then immortalize them on paper. Not so much as individuals, perhaps, but as characters—or better still, as embodiment of the community character.
He was born Aug. 8, 1907, near the W-Hollow where he now lives in a log home. His writings are based primarily on his home, family, woodsy surroundings and his friends. The characters who live on in his books are the same people with whom we have daily dealings, but it took an artist to put them into type. Through all these things, however, the Stuart philosophies shine through.
His prolific record includes 48 books (seven of poetry) and about 300 short stories. Another six books have been written about him, indicating that the medium in this case has become a major part of the message. This year he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, based on his 1975 book, World of Jesse Stuart. The next Stuart publication will be The Seasons of Jesse Stuart, a hand-written, leather-bound limited edition of poetry.
Stuart’s first approach to life, as an adult, came as an educator, and he was the youngest superintendent of Greenup County schools. His career spans from high schools at Greenup and Portsmouth to travel service as an exchange professor in Egypt and Greece. He often mentions with pride that he taught at the University of Cairo, where St. Luke taught.
A student of Stuart could learn about both the man and his style by reading his autobiographical novels: Beyond the 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); and My World (1975).
The Woodi Ishmael artwork which illustrated this section has more than one tie-in. Ishmael and Stuart collaborated or cooperated early in life, not just on book illustrations but on a combined family Christmas card. This drawing underlines Stuart’s “re-birth” after a heart attack and was initially published as part of Ishmael’s “Power of Faith” series.