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Jesse Hilton Stuart (August 8, 1907 – February 17, 1984) was an American writer who is known for writing short stories, poetry, and novels about Southern Appalachia. Born and raised in Greenup Countymarker, Kentuckymarker, Stuart relied heavily on the rural locale of Northeastern Kentucky for his writings. Stuart was named the Poet Laureate of Kentucky in 1954. He died at Jo-Lin nursing home in Ironton, Ohiomarker, which is near his boyhood home.

Early life

Stuart was born in Greenup County, Kentucky to Mitchell and Martha (Hylton) Stuart on August 8, 1907.


One day while he 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 seven hundred and three sonnets that he would collect in Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow (1934). The book was described by the 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 made poet laureate of the state of Kentucky in 1954, and in 1961 he received the award from American Academy of Poets.


His 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 claim and won the Thomas Jefferson Southern 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 twentieth century with high critical acclaim. Jesse Stuart was the second youngest of that group (William Saroyan was one year younger).

Short stories

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.


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.

After being denied at three colleges, he was finally accepted at and attended Lincoln Memorial University, near Harrogate, Tennessee. After graduating he returned to the area and taught at Warnock High School in Greenup, Kentucky. Later he was appointed principal at McKell High School, but resigned a year later to attend graduate school at Vanderbilt University. He also served as superintendent of the Greenup County Schools before ending his career as an English teacher at Portsmouth High School.

The Thread that Runs So True (1949) has become a classic of American education. Ruel Foster noted in 1968 that the book had good sales in its first year. At the time she wrote, sales for the book had gone up in each successive year, an astonishing feat for any book. The book has continued continuously in print for more than fifty years.

Jesse Stuart State Nature Preserve

The natural settings of W-hollow were prominent throughout Stuart's writings. Prior to his death he donated of woodlands in W-Hollow to the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission. The Jesse Stuart State Nature Preserve is dedicated to protecting the legacy of Stuart, and ensures that a significant portion of W-Hollow will remained undeveloped in perpetuity. The trail system is open to the public from dawn to dusk all year long.

Books by Jesse Stuart


  • Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow (1934)
  • Album of Destiny (1944)
  • Kentucky is My Land (1952)
  • Hold April (1962)


  • Beyond Dark Hills (1938)
  • The Thread that Runs So True (1949)
  • The Year of My Rebirth (1956)
  • To Teach, To Love (1970)
  • My World (1975)


  • Daughter of the Legend
  • Trees of Heaven (1940)
  • Taps for Private Tussie (1943)
  • Foretaste of Glory (1946)
  • Hie to the Hunters (1950)
  • Mr. Gallion's School (1967)
  • The Land Beyond the River (1973)

For Young Readers

  • The Beatinest Boy (1953)
  • A Penny's Worth of Character (1954)
  • Red Mule (1955)
  • Old Ben (1970)
  • The thread that runs so true

Short story collections

  • Head o' W-Hollow (1936)
  • Men of the Mountains (1941)
  • Tales from the Plum Grove Hills (1946)
  • Plowshares in Heaven (1958)
  • Save Every Lamb (1964)
  • Come Gentle Spring (1969)
  • A Jesse Stuart Harvest (1965)
  • My Land Has a Voice (1966)
  • Come Back to the Farm (1971)
  • 32 Votes Before Breakfast (1974)

Books About Jesse Stuart

  • 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: The Biography of an American Writer, Jesse Hilton Stuart, by H. Edward Richardson (McGraw-Hill, 1984)


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