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MAN WITH A BULL-TONGUE PLOW is a landmark in American literature. This memorable collection of sonnets created a sensation when it was first published in 1934. It immediately established Jesse Stuart as a major American writer, and it was the beginning of his distinguished literary career. It is a book with origins in the mountains of Kentucky where young Stuart worked a fifty-acre farm and somehow managed to find time to write down the poems that burned in his brain. Kentucky comes to life in every line of MAN WITH A BULL-TONGUE PLOW: sunlight on green fields, clean winds blowing through corn, the stars above the mountains, and other images of mountain life are lovingly recorded. Dozens of dramas and scores of characters crowd these pages. The nation s critics hailed MAN WITH A BULL-TONGUE PLOW as an outstanding American poetic work, and assigned its author to the company of Burns, Housman, Masefield, Masters, and Frost. The passage of time has not altered this verdict; for here, simple and effortless, in all its vigorous beauty and singing strength, is a truly extraordinary book. MAN WITH A BULL-TONGUE PLOW embodies the spirit and the essence of poetry. It cannot fail to win the unqualified admiration of all who read it.
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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. 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. 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. Stuart began writing stories and poems about Appalachia in high school and college. He began his autobiographical, BEYOND DARK HILLS, while he was at Vanderbilt University. 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 a short story collection, MEN OF THE MOUNTAINS, the following year. More than a dozen other short story collections were published in Stuart s lifetime. TAPS FOR PRIVATE TUSSIE (1943), an award-winning satire on New Deal relief and its effect on Appalachia s self-reliance, 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. Stuart suffered a major heart attack in 1954. During his convalescence, he wrote THE YEAR OF MY REBIRTH (1956), a book about his rediscovery of the joy of life. He later became an active spokesman for the American Heart Association. 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 1981, he received Kentucky s Distinguished Service Medallion. Stuart died 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.
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