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Preserving the legacy of Jesse Stuart and the Appalachian way of life.

I want to walk around and look at these old immortal hills before I go, for here I was born and have lived all my days. ~ Jesse Stuart

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Jesse Stuart's Legacy

     The late Poet Laureate of Kentucky, Jesse Hilton Stuart, published 2,000 poems, 460 short stories, and more than 60 books. In addition to being one of Appalachia's best known and most anthologized authors, his works have been translated into many foreign languages.

     Yet his contributions are more than literary. During his life, this charismatic educator and author served as a leader for the people of his mountain homeland and as a spokesman for values like hard work, respect for the land, belief in education, devotion to country, and love of family. His life and works still attract hundreds of tourists to eastern Kentucky every year.


Jesse's highschool photo (on left) his Guggenheim Fellowship photo on the right.

-Jesse Stuart Foundation Archives Department



Jesse Behind the plow.

-Jesse Stuart Foundation Archives



A 1939 photo of the Stuart siblings: Glennis, James, Mary, Jesse, Sophia and parents Martha and Mitch.

 -Voiers Photo Album

Early Life

     Jesse Stuart was born on August 8, 1906, in northeastern Kentucky's Greenup County, where his parents, Mitchell and Martha (Hilton) Stuart, were impoverished tenant farmers. From his father, Stuart learned to love and respect the land. He later became a far-sighted conservationist -- donating over 700 acres of his land in W-Hollow to the Kentucky Nature Preserves System in 1980.

     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. Jesse 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.

Jesse working in his bunkhouse after a long day at school.

- Courtesy of the H. Edward Richardson Collection, Ekstrom Library, University of Louisville


Early Career

     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), hailed by the president of the National Education Association as the finest book on education in fifty years. The book became a road map for educational reform in Kentucky. By the time it appeared, Stuart had left the classroom to devote his time to lecturing and writing. He returned to public education as a high school principal in 1956-57, a story told in Mr. Gallion's School (1967). He later 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.


Deane, Jane, and Jesse during Jesse's World War II service.

-Jesse Stuart Foundation Archives Department



"Autograph Party" for Dawn of the Remembered Spring, published in 1972.

- Jesse Stuart Foundation Archives Department

Stories and Poems

     Stuart began writing stories and poems about Appalachia in high school and college. During a year of graduate study at Vanderbilt University in 1931-32, Donald Davidson, one of his professors, encouraged him to continue writing. Following the private publication of Stuart's poetry collection Harvest of Youth in 1930, Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow appeared in 1934 and was widely praised. Mark Van Doren, for instance, likened Stuart to Robert Burns as a poet "who captured the heart and soul of his people."

     Stuart began his autobiographical, Beyond Dark Hills, while he was at Vanderbilt. Published in 1938, it inspired readers to follow Stuart's example of overcoming great obstacles to obtain an education. His first novel, Trees of Heaven, appeared in 1940, followed by short story collections Head o' W-Hollow (1936) and Men of the Mountains (1941). More than a dozen other short story collections were published in Stuart's lifetime.


“First, last, and always, I am a teacher,” Stuart often said.

- Jesse Stuart Foundation Archives Department


Kentucky's Poet Laureate

     He was also a widely-read novelist, and critics such as J. Donald Adams ranked Stuart as a first-class local colorist. His first novel, Trees of Heaven appeared in 1940, followed by Taps for Private Tussie (1943), an award-winning satire on New Deal relief and its effect on Appalachia's self-reliance. Taps catapulted Stuart to success, but the critical reaction was mixed. Some saw it as nothing more than a comical, almost stereotyped story of poor, lazy mountaineers on relief, while others explained that Stuart wrote for a popular rather than a high brow audience.

      Stuart was a successful poet. His ten volumes of verse include Album of Destiny (1944) and Kentucky Is My Land (1952). He was designated as the Poet Laureate of Kentucky in 1954 and was made a fellow of the Academy of American Poets in 1961. Stuart also wrote a number of books for children that are still highly regarded and much in use in today's classroom.



Jesse's recuperation after his first heart attack.

- Courtesy of the Louisville Courier-Journal


Jesse at the podium on Jesse Stuart Day, Greenup, Kentucky, October 15, 1955.

-Jesse Stuart Foundation Archives Depertment



Jesse's monument, dedicated on Jesse Stuart Day, still stands on the Greenup County courthouse lawn.

-Jesse Stuart Foundation Archives Department

Honors and Health Issues

     Stuart suffered a major heart attack in 1954. During his convalescence, he wrote daily journals that were the basis for The Year of My Rebirth (1956), a book recording his rediscovery of the joy of life. He later became an active spokesman for the American Heart Association.

     Throughout his adult life, Stuart received numerous honors as a writer and educator. In 1944, the University of Kentucky awarded him his first of many honorary doctorates. October 15, 1955 was proclaimed "Jesse Stuart Day" by the Governor of Kentucky and a bust of Stuart, which is still standing, was unveiled on the Greenup County Courthouse lawn. In 1958, he was featured on This Is Your Life, a popular television show. In 1972, the lodge at Greenbo Lake State Resort Park was named the Jesse Stuart Lodge. In 1981, he received Kentucky's Distinguished Service Medallion.



Jesse and Deane's graves and marker in Plum Grove Cemetary.

-Jesse Stuart Foundation Archives Department


     In 1978, Stuart was disabled by a stroke. In May 1982, he suffered another stroke which rendered him comatose until he died on February 17, 1984. He is buried in Plum Grove Cemetery in Greenup County, close to W-Hollow, the little Appalachian valley that became a part of the American mind through his world-famous books.


Deane and Jesse in August, 1977.

-Jesse Stuart Archives Department


Proud father Jesse with daughter Jane.

-Jesse Stuart Foundation Archives Department


Grandpa Jesse with his grandsons Erik and Conrad.

-Jesse Stuart Foundation Archives Department



     Jesse and Dean's home on W-Hollow.

-Jesse Stuart Foundation Archives Department




Jesse Stuart Foundation

     Late in his life, Stuart realized that he had created a legacy that needed to be perpetuated, so he and business and educational leaders across Kentucky created the Jesse Stuart Foundation in 1979.

     Incorporated for public, charitable, and educational purposes, the Jesse Stuart Foundation is devoted to preserving the legacy of Jesse Stuart and the Appalachian way of life. The foundation, which owns and manages the rights to Stuart's published and unpublished literary works, is currently reprinting many of his best out-of-print books, along with other books which focus on Kentucky and Southern Appalachia.

     Over the last three decades, it has become a highly regarded regional press and bookseller which serves a large and devoted reading public. "Every year," reports marketing director Anthony Stephens, "we sell books to bookstores, libraries, and individuals in every state and several foreign countries."

     The foundation opened its offices in Ashland in the fall of 1985. Since then, the Jesse Stuart Foundation has produced more than 100 printings and editions. Chairman Keith R. Kappes proudly reports, "Our books, along with a wide range of educational products and services, supplement the education system at all levels."

     The public is invited to visit the Jesse Stuart Foundation offices at 1645 Winchester Avenue, Ashland, Kentucky, where hundreds of regional books are in stock and available for sale. JSF visitors can also enjoy a visit to the Leming Gallery, a photographic gallery that focuses on Appalachian topics. Also available are displays of regional art and crafts. For more information, call (606) 326-1667; or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

You can also write to:  Jesse Stuart Foundation, 1645 Winchester Ave., Ashland, KY 41101.


James M. Gifford, Ph.D.

CEO & Senior Editor

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Last modified on Monday, 09 April 2012 21:43
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Jesse Stuart Foundation

1645 Winchester Ave
Ashland, KY 41101
Phone: 606.326.1667
Toll Free: 855.407.6243
Fax: 606.325.2519
Store Hours:
Monday — Friday  
9:00am — 5:00pm

James M. Gifford

CEO and Senior Editor

Judith Kidwell

Administrative Assistant to the CEO & Senior Editor


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