Cradle of the Copperheads
Previously unpublished, this is Stuart's first novel, written in 1932 and covering the frustrating, tumultuous year he spent as superintendent of the Greenup County, Ky., schools before deciding to return to Nashville to devote himself to writing.
Just out of Vanderbilt University, Shan Stringer is appointed head of Wonder County schools and is immediately thrown into a vicious struggle against a corrupt political system headed by former superintendent Ace Ruggles and his courthouse cronies. Shan also spends much of the bitterly cold winter traversing the eastern Kentucky hill country, working to bring a basic level of comfort to the impoverished rural schools hard hit by the Depression. The narrative is loosely structured, episodic, uneven and full of spontaneous and lyrical poetry. It romanticizes the people of Appalachia, seen by Stuart as primitive, yet living in harmony with nature and unspoiled by the corruption of outside society. His rough-hewn farmers are natural storytellers and their yarn spinning is an integral part of the book. This hill country would provide Stuart (The Thread That Runs So True) with a rich literary tradition and with characters that became uniquely his own.