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Jesse Hilton Stuart
and Naomi Deane Norris

Jesse Hilton Stuart
Jesse Hilton Stuart

Naomie and Jesse Stuart in Greece 1966
Naomi Deane (Norris) and Jesse Stuart in Delos Greece 14 July 1966
Jesse Hilton Stuart Birthplace Greenup County Kentucky
Jesse Stuart Birthplace - Greenup County, Kentucky
Jesse Hilton Stuart b: 8 AUG 1906 (or 1907) Cedar Ripples, Greenup Co KY d 17 Feb 1984 Ironton, Lawrence Co OH buried Plum Grove Cemetery, Greenup Co KY; m. 14 Oct 1939 Ashland, Boyd Co KY to Naomi Deane Norris b 16 Apr 1908 Hopewell, Greenup Co KY. Jesse Hilton Stuart (August 8, 1906 – February 17, 1984) was an American writer who achieved prominence in writing short stories, poetry, and novels. Born and raised in Greenup County, Kentucky, Stuart relied heavily on the rural locale of Northeastern Kentucky for his writings. The following was written 18 August, 1985 by real estate reporter, Dee Wedemeyer, in the New York Times a year and 6 months after the death of Jesse Hilton Stuart;

Published: August 18, 1985

You may know someone who seems to have stepped out of the pages of a book; here in Greenup, in the Appalachian foothills of Kentucky, you can meet people who stepped into the pages of the late Jesse Hilton Stuart's fiction and see the spot where the event took place.

Like Thomas Wolfe, who fictionalized his family and friends in Asheville, N.C., Mr. Stuart wrote about people and incidents he knew, altering them imaginatively. In the process, he created a fictional portrait of a community and way of life in this region, which he often identified as ''Greenwood'' in his books.

Jesse Stuart died last year at the age of 78, having created nearly 4,000 characters in 57 books, including 9 novels, 18 collections of short stories and 8 volumes of poetry. Two of his books are regarded as classics of their genre: ''The Thread That Runs So True,'' about Stuart's early life as a rural schoolteacher, superintendent and principal, and ''Taps for Private Tussie,'' the story of an irrepressible family who couldn't do a lick of work, but could hold a Saturday-night dance any night of the week.

Unlike Thomas Wolfe's acquaintances, the residents of Greenup County, which now has a population of about 40,000, were for the most part not angry about being portrayed in works of fiction. Some never knew they were the basis for Stuart's characters because they couldn't read and still can't. Many are proud of their role in literary history. Stop at a house on Kentucky Route 1, where handmade rugs are sold, and Irene Evans will tell you Stuart wrote about her father's willow trees.

''I'm Finn, Jesse was Shan, Pa was Mick,'' says James Stuart, the author's 69-year-old brother, who is chairman of the Greenup County School Board.

About the best thing that can happen to a visitor to Stuart country is to join a tour conducted by James Stuart, visit with Jesse Stuart's dignified, 77-year-old widow, Naomi Deane and be guided in the search for living literary landmarks by Ethel McBrayer, a childhood friend of the Stuarts and a member of the board of the Jesse Stuart Foundation.

''I never have two tours the same,'' said Jim Stuart, who as often as twice a week meets a tour bus at the Jesse Stuart Lodge at nearby Greenbo Lake State Park, which is linked to the Stuart home in W-Hollow by a hiking trail. ''There's so much to tell about.''

W-Hollow, where the author spent all but two years of his life, is 28 parcels of land, totaling 800 acres, purchased by the Stuarts over the years. The name is derived from the ''W'' formed by W Creek in four hollows between the hills. Before Jesse Stuart's death, the Stuarts gave half the property to the state as a nature preserve and the rights to most of his works to the foundation that bears his name. The foundation is working to have the Greenbo Lake State Park and the nature preserve turned into a state literary park with markers to indicate sites in Stuart's works. The foundation believes this would be a first for a state park system.

Visitors to W-Hollow can see the actual limb that Nestegg, the champion rooster in the story of the same name, roosted on and the bunkhouse in which Jim and Jesse slept.

'' 'The Beatinest Boy' built that,'' said Jim Stuart, referring to the rail fencing in W-Hollow built by Jesse Stuart's nephew, Eugene Darby, subject of the story of that title. ''The 'Hot Collared-Mule' was right here where that car is setting,'' he continued, referring to another short story about his father's trading a mule that could only run if he was hot under the collar for one that couldn't run at all if he was hot. ''W-Hollow is a site all itself.''

The house where Stuart lived was once a log cabin that his father rented near the homestead of 45 acres that he bought for $300 in 1918. After Jesse Stuart's first three books had been published and he had completed a year in Scotland on a Guggenheim Fellowship, he married Naomi Deane Norris, also a teacher, whom he had known for 17 years. They decided to renovate the cabin after his father said, ''Jesse you have the bird, but you don't have the cage.'' The cabin was enlarged several times to its present 10-room size and the logs were covered by shingles made by Stuart's father. Since 1982 it has been included in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Stuart house would stimulate anyone's Goldilocks urge to try every four-poster bed, open every cupboard, read every book and test every chair, even the little ones at a child's tea table in their daughter Jessica Jane's room.

Starched white curtains hang in the windows; each window sill holds a glass collection. The window that served as the Riverton post office in Elwood Morton's store, where Jesse Stuart walked to sell his eggs and mail his manuscripts, is over one desk. Thomas Hart Benton's drawings that illustrated ''Taps for Private Tussie'' hang over the mantle. The quilts and baskets and blue china, which have become popular in boutiques in recent years, evoke the suspicion that the country people who sold their crafts to city stores may have kept the really good stuff for themselves.

The log-cabin-patterned quilt in the master bedroom was made by Jesse Stuart's mother and incorporates pieces of his childhood clothing. In the kitchen stands a white oak basket just like the ones mentioned in several stories. Stuart's mother supplemented the family income by making these baskets and Stuart would take them to town on horseback to sell.

''He wrote a book in nearly every room in the house but the dining room,'' said Naomi Deane, ''and there we edited a book.''

Many of the people who lived in the cabins and small houses in W-Hollow have moved away or died, but it is still possible to track down some of the people who became models for characters in Stuart's tales or their relatives and come away wishing Stuart could have lived long enough to write sequels. In Druthers, a fast-food restaurant, Ethel McBrayer, a retired school principal, pointed out a relative of the fictional Tussies, who as Stuart wrote, had clear blue eyes that ''looked at you and soon looked away.'' On Main Street is First and Peoples Bank, where Mrs. McBrayer worked during the war, and saw ''Aunt Vittie Tussie'' collecting contributions for flowers for funerals. Mrs. McBrayer recalled a friend who tried to register a ''Tussie'' child in school and found out that the child had never been named: The parents ran out of names and decided the child could name himself. On Riverside Drive she pointed out her father's home, which she believes was the model for the 16-room mansion that the Tussie's moved into after they inherited $10,000.

''It could have been,'' said Florence Blair, in an impromptu tour of the mansion. ''Jesse Stuart was awful bad about mentioning things.'' Robert Blair, her husband, offered a shot of gin and added that he knew a man who ''owned the plow'' in the title of Mr. Stuart's much-acclaimed book of poetry, ''Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow.''

In front of the county courthouse, is the Jesse Stuart monument, built 27 years before he died. In Plum Grove cemetery, his grave is marked with a granite stone that - appropriately for a man who wrote poems on leaves and tobacco sacks - includes his words on all four sides.

Jesse Stuart - (1906-1984)
By Carolyn Bills


"I know as surely as I live and breathe the positive proof of what education can do for a man."    – Jesse Stuart, The Thread that Runs so True

Greenup County

Biography (Source):

Jesse Stuart was born August 8, 1906 in a small cabin in Greenup County , Kentucky a few miles from the Ohio River. His parents were Mitchell and Martha Hilton Stuart, and he was the second of seven children. Jesse Stuart's father was a coal miner and a tenant farmer, and even though he was uneducated, Stuart had an incredible amount of respect for him. Mitchell Stuart's philosophy was, "Since I didn't get any education, I don't want my youngins to grow up in this world without it. They'll never know what they're missin' until they don't have it". Jesse Stuart started school at Plum Grove in 1912. He was an eager and competitive student, and he wrote his first short story – about the Easter Bunny – at the age of eight. Stuart was extremely bright, reaching the seventh grade by the time he was ten years old.

In 1922, Jesse Stuart started to attend Greenup High School. Stuart continued to be a strong student, and really developed as a writer during his high school years. The summer after his junior year, he "sat in for the teachers' examination and got a second-class certificate". That summer he got his first taste of teaching, at Cane Creek Elementary School.

Stuart graduated in 1926, and in September he was accepted to Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee. He called it "the college that'd take me," and he worked for the school in his free time in order to pay his tuition (Richardson, 67). He wrote about five hundred poems there, and in three years became "the first of [his] father's people to finish college". After his graduation, Stuart returned to W-Hollow and got a teaching job. He was a successful teacher, and was made principal of Greenup High School the following year. After two years back home, he once again ventured abroad, to attend the graduate school at Vanderbilt University.

Jesse Stuart returned to Kentucky in 1932, and by the time he was twenty-four years old, he was asked to be the superintendent of Greenup County Schools. After a few years of serving in this position, Stuart received a Guggenheim Fellowship and traveled to Scotland, the home of his ancestors. He stated that his plan was to "[…] discover existing similarities in the highlanders of Kentucky and Scotland– Certain surviving traits as indicated in the poetry and song in the Kentucky Highlanders of Scottish ancestry". When he returned to his home, he started a newspaper and taught a year at Portsmouth High School.

After his year at Portsmouth, Jesse Stuart left the profession of teaching to become a sheep farmer. He married his childhood sweetheart Naomi Deane Norris on October 14, 1939, and together they lived in W-Hollow, running the farm while Stuart worked on his first novel, Trees of Heaven. His daughter Jane was born August 20, 1942. For the next two decades, Jesse Stuart raised sheep, published books, and gave lectures around the country.

In 1960, already established as a successful and famous American author, Stuart traveled to Egypt. He spent the next ten years teaching and lecturing all over the world. When Stuart returned to W-Hollow, he stayed there for the rest of his life. He continued to write and publish books until 1977 when his health began to decline. For eight years, he suffered frequent heart attacks and strokes, finally passing away on February 17, 1984. He was buried in Plum Grove Cemetery in Greenup, Kentucky, in the land where his old school once stood. Jesse Stuart lived in Greenup for most of his life, but he made a mark on the entire world. In his biography, Beyond Dark Hills , Stuart declared, "[…] these hills will not always hold me. I shall go beyond them some day". He fulfilled this desire both literally and figuratively, traveling to all fifty U.S. states and over thirty countries, and leaving a legacy of more than 60 published works.

II. Influences

"And I am firm in my belief that a teacher lives on and on through his students. I will live if my teaching is inspirational, good, and stands firm for good values and character training. Tell me how can good teaching ever die? Good teaching is forever and the teacher is immortal."

- The Thread that Runs so True

High School

Jesse Stuart's first major influence was his English teacher at Greenup High School, Mrs. R. E. Hatton. She recognized him as a very strong English student and encouraged him to write short stories. Stuart would often stop by before and after class to chat with her, and according to her son Robert Hatton, "Jesse used to take Mother out to pick wild flowers together". Stuart was Mrs. Hatton's favorite student, and he thought of her as his "literary mother".

Dr. Robert Edward Hatton, Mrs. Hatton's husband and the principal of the school, also served as a mentor to the young Jesse Stuart. They studied the Bible together, and Stuart credited Mr. Hatton with helping him to undergo the spiritual realization that motivated him to achieve so much in later years. One Bible verse, Luke 17:21, stayed with Stuart for his entire life. The verse reads, "'Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or lo there! For behold, the kingdom of God is within you.'" These words served as the foundation for Stuart's autobiography, The Kingdom Within.

In high school, Jesse Stuart read a book of poetry by Robert Burns and was awed by the writer's talent, saying, "my prayer, if I ever prayed one then, was to write poetry that would endure like the poetry of Robert Burns".

Jesse Stuart was also impressed with Emerson's essay, Nature. "Emerson lived with me. He walked up that ridge with me".


At Lincoln Memorial University, Stuart's English professor Harry Harrison Kroll was an influential advisor to the aspiring writer. Stuart's friend Lucille Jordan said that "'Kroll was his ideal'" (Richardson 81). In his autobiography, To Teach, To Love, Stuart says, "I remember when Mr. Kroll told me that poetry was my field and for me to 'go after it.' He told me to bring two or more poems to the class, and I went with sixty poems and felt a little hurt when I didn't get to read all of them".

Also at LMU, "[Stuart] received intellectual stimulation from his classmates Don West and James Still, who were later to also achieve recognition for their literary portrayal of mountain people" (Jesse Stuart ). Stuart befriended West, and the two would remain friends long after their college days.

As a graduate student at Vanderbilt University, Stuart exchanged ideas with Robert Penn Warren, who would later become famous as well (Jesse Stuart). The two authors remained friends after college and wrote introductions for a few of each other's works.

III. Writing Habits and Locations

"Jesse Stuart represents the viable elements of regionalism. Born in the northeast corner of Kentucky, a lifelong resident of the area, a farmer, schoolteacher, hunter, and fisherman in Greenup, Carter, and Floyd counties, he brings to his fiction ancestral links with the region, personal familiarity with places and history, sympathy with and even at times a little scorn for the indigenous citizenry."

– John T. Flanagan (Essays on His Work 71-72)

Although Jesse Stuart Ventured outside of W-Hollow many times during his life, he always returned to the place of his birth. His stories all characterize the type of people he knew and depict the way of life he grew up with. In his poem, "Kentucky is My Land," Stuart expresses his love for his homeland.

"[…] And when I go beyond the border,
I take with me growth and beauty of the seasons,
The music of wind in pine and cedar tops,
The wordless songs of snow-melted water
When it pours over the rocks to wake the spring.
I take with me Kentucky embedded in my brain and heart,
In my flesh and bone and blood
Since I am of Kentucky
And Kentucky is part of me" (Jesse Stuart).

From Man With a Bull-Tongue Plow:

When golden leaves begin to shiver down
Among the barren brush beneath the trees,
And scarlet leaves and yellow and light-brown
Begin to play in wind and pepper down
To earth-- these clean and frosted leaves drip down,
Then it is time the corn is in the stack,
Potatoes in the hole--hay in the mows.
This is the time rust has grown on the plows;
The time to haul the pumpkins to the shed,
Since frosts have come and pumpkin vines are dead.
And this is time to garner autumn fruit,
Give unto earth the waste--you take the loot--
And time to run the apples through the press
And share the multi-colored ruggedness
Of shreds that drop from each tree's golden dress.
(From Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow).

From Head o' W-Hollow (1936):

[The] road that leads to W-Hollow is a wagon road, the first three miles of it. For the rest it's a cow path, a goat path, a rabbit path, a fox path, a mule path-- it is whatever you want to call it. But the drum of the automobile is far away. The clockin of the horses hoofs used to beat this road-- and still does....
W-Hollow is a place in the sun, fenced in by the wind...its just a place with four seasons, wind, sun, rain, snow, ? with scrub oaks and old log houses and new plank shacks--a place that's somewhere for some and nowhere for most.
In the spring you can hear the beetles and the can hear the wind slushin around in the leaves. In the summer you can hear the wind and the corn blades parleyin around. You can hear the grasshoppers and the crickets. You can hear the lazy wind.... The whole Hollow looks lazy in the summer sun. And the sun allus shines on W-Hollow in Kentucky. It never reaches some of it until noon. But it gets there.

In the fall you can see the brown leaves along the path, and you can see them flyin in the wind. You can hear the beetles in the bean-patch--and down in the old cornfields. Falltime is good to hear in W-Hollow...a place in the sun, walled in by the wind and the hills,--nowhere for many--somewhere for some.

Jesse Stuart was constantly writing during his life. He wrote hundreds of poems in college, and no matter what his current profession was, he always kept a side project of a story, novel, or book of poetry going. Stuart said in the application for his Guggenheim Fellowship, "…I just love to write. I love to make living people I know move for me on paper. I wrote poetry all the time I was in college – all the time I was in the mills where there were clouds of smoke by day and pillars of fire by night".

IV. Awards

In 1954, Jesse Stuart was named Poet Laureate of Kentucky.
In 1955, Stuart received the Academy of American Poets Award.
In 1975, Stuart was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
In 1981, Stuart was honored with the Kentucky Media Award.

V. The Complete Works of Jesse Stuart
(Total of 62)

Autobiography, Autobiographical Fiction, and Biography:
Beyond Dark Hills: A Personal Story. 1938.
The Thread That Runs So True. 1949.
The Year of My Rebirth. 1956.
God's Oddling: The Story of Mick Stuart, My Father. 1960.
To Teach, To Love. 1970.
My World. 1975.
Dandelion on the Acropolis: A Journal of Greece. 1978.
The Kingdom Within: A Spiritual Autobiography. 1979.

Trees of Heaven. 1940.
Taps for Private Tussie. 1943.
Mongrel Mettle: The Autobiography of a Dog. 1944.
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.

Poetry Collections:
Harvest of Youth. 1930.
Man With a Bull-Tongue Plow. 1934.
Album of Destiny. 1944.
Kentucky Is My Land. 1952.
Hold April: New Poems by Jesse Stuart. 1962.
Autumn Lovesong: A Celebration of Love's Fulfillment. 1971.
The World of Jesse Stuart: Selected Poems. 1975.
The Seasons of Jesse Stuart: An Autobiography in Poetry 1907-1976. 1976.

Short Story Collections (some with poems included):
Head o' W-Hollow. 1936.
Tales from the Plum Grove Hills. 1940.
Men of the Mountains. 1941.
Clearing in the Sky & Other Stories. 1950.
Plowshare in Heaven. 1958.
A Jesse Stuart Reader: Stories and Poems. 1963.
Save Every Lamb. 1964.
A Jesse Stuart Harvest. 1965.
My Land Has a Voice. 1966.
Stories by Jesse Stuart. 1968.
Come Gentle Spring. 1969.
Seven by Jesse. 1970.
Come Back to the Farm. 1971.
The Best-Loved Stories of Jesse Stuart. 1972.
Dawn of Remembered Spring. 1972.
32 Votes Before Breakfast: Politics at the Grass Roots as Seen in Short Stories by Jesse Stuart. 1974.
The Short Stories. 1974.
Land of the Honey-Colored Wind. 1982.

Junior Books:
The Beatinest Boy. 1953.
A Penny's Worth of Character. 1954.
Red Mule. 1955.
The Rightful Owner. 1960.
Andy Finds a Way. 1961.
A Ride with Huey, the Engineer. 1966.
Old Ben. 1970.
Come to My Tomorrowland. 1971.

Essay Collections:
If I Were Seventeen Again and Other Essays. 1980.
Lost Sandstones and Lonely Skies and Other Essays. 1980.

Short Volumes:
Time, a Story. 1939.
Huey, the Engineer. 1960.
Split Cherry Tree. 1990.
Honest Confession of a Literary Sin. 1977.
Rebels with a Cause. Delivered May 29, 1967.

Co-authored works:

Up the Hollow from Lynchburg. With photographer Joe Clark. Introduction and descriptive text by Jesse Stuart. 1975.
The Only Place We Live. With August Derleth and Robert E. Gard. Ed. Mark E. LeFebvre. 1976.

Edited Works:
Outlooks Through Literature, as editor, with Robert C. Pooley, Lillian White, Jay Cline. 1954.
Short Stories for Discussion, as editor, with Albert K. Rideout. 1965.

VI. Critical Reviews of Stuart's Work

On the Web:

This site contains a critical review of Stuart's "Dawn of Remembered Spring" by Danny L. Miller.

This site contains an essay by Amanda McCullough about nature imagery in the works of Jesse Stuart and William Wordsworth.


Hopkinson, Shirley L. "Jesse Stuart on Education." Library Journal. 15 Nov 1991: 93.
Bowers, John. "Jesse." The New York Times Book Review. 19 Aug 1984: 11.
"Best-loved Short Stories of Jesse Stuart." Publishers Weekly. 20 Aug 1982: 57.


Herndon, Jerry A. Jesse Stuart, The Man & His Books. Ashland: The Jesse Stuart Foundation, l988.

Clarke, Mary Washington and J. R. LeMaster, eds. Jesse Stuart: Essays on His Work.
Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1977

VII. Where to Find Jesse Stuart Collections

The Camden-Carroll Library at Morehead State University ( contains an extensive collection of Jesse Stuart's works and manuscripts.

The Special Collections Department at Murray State's Forrest C. Pogue Library ( contains a collection of Jesse Stuart photographs, first editions, manuscripts, and memorabilia.

The Special Collections Department at Eastern Kentucky University ( has a series of recorded lectures presented by Jesse Stuart while he served as an author-in-residence at EKU in 1966. The tapes have not been transcribed, but they can be listened to at the university library.


The Jesse Stuart Foundation
Dr. James Gifford, Executive Director
P.O. Box 391
Ashland, Kentucky 41114

VIII. Links
This site contains a short biography of Jesse Stuart by Chad Barringer.
This site contains a short biography of Jesse Stuart by Jamie Ballard.
This site contains a biographical sketch of Jesse Stuart, a few selected works, comments about Stuart by other authors, and a chronological list of all of Stuart's works.
This is the official site of the Jesse Stuart Nature Preserve in Greenup County Kentucky.
This is a University of Louisville Ekstrom Library site with a reference to Jesse Stuart's Poet Laureate Award in 1954. It contains links to some of the sites already listed above and links to information about other Kentucky authors.

IX. Works Cited

Ballard, Jamie. "Jesse Stuart." KYLIT – A Site Devoted to Kentucky Writers. 6 Feb. 2001.

Barringer, Chad. Jesse Stuart . 23 Feb. 2001.

Clarke, Mary Washington and J. R. LeMaster, eds. Jesse Stuart: Essays on His Work. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1977.

Jesse Stuart. 6 Feb. 2001.

Richardson, H. Edward. Jesse: The Biography of an American Writer ~ Jesse Hilton Stuart. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1984.

Stuart, Jesse. The Thread That Runs So True . New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1949.

Stuart, Jesse. To Teach, To Love. New York: The World Publishing Company, 1970.

This essay was submitted by a student of Breen Reardon, an English teacher at Sycamore High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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