April 3, 2001

The Lexington Herald-Leader

 

Award-winning Kentucky poet,  founded Appalachian magazine

 ALBERT STEWART 1914-2001

 

 By Jennifer Hewlett

 HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITER


 Kentucky poet Albert Stewart, known as a patron saint to two generations of Kentucky writers, died Sunday at his home in Knott County. He was 86.


 Mr. Stewart's own published works were not voluminous. He had contempt for self-promotion. And some friends felt that his devotion to helping other writers caused him to neglect his own work. But his book of poetry titled The Untoward Hills, published in 1962, is considered a Kentucky classic.


 It was not until 1994 that another volume of his verse, The Holy Season: Walking in the Wild, was published.


Mr. Stewart was perhaps best known in literary circles. His writing has been published in national magazines and he was an award-winning poet.


He was instrumental in providing younger authors an avenue Appalachian Heritage magazine through which their own works could become known. Mr. Stewart was the founder and editor emeritus of Appalachian Heritage, a scholarly quarterly published through Berea College. Contributors to the magazine have included some of Kentucky's best-known writers, artists and  scholars.


 He was also known for organizing what became the Appalachian Writers Workshop at one of his alma maters, the Hindman Settlement School. Mr. Stewart also directed other writers' workshops.


 ``He made considerable contributions to Kentucky writing as a poet, as an editor ... and as a teacher of young writers, novice writers, beginning writers of all ages,'' said retired Bellarmine University English professor Wade Hall.


 ``I think his major contribution was really as editor. He published writers, particularly those who were writing about Appalachian culture that he was a part of,'' he said. Hall said that ``when you're helping other people . . . you can't always exploit your own talents.''


Mr. Stewart was born in Yellow Mountain in Knott County on July 17, 1914, the son of William and Lucinda Sparkman Stewart. The Stewart family had lived in the remote vale of Knott County since before the Civil War.  Mr. Stewart's home, known as ``Kingdom of Yellow Mountain,'' provided the foundation and inspiration for much of his writing.

 

The Kingdom of Yellow Mountain

 


When the state Department of Transportation decided in 1976 to build a new highway, Ky. 80, between Prestonsburg and Hazard, it chose a route that dissected Mr. Stewart's farm. Mr. Stewart did not hesitate to use Appalachian Heritage as a weapon in his fight to save his land. But he lost the fight, and he settled into his relocated house a few hundred yards away.


In 1983, the author donated his Knott County ``mountain farm'' some 200 acres to the University of Kentucky. The property was to be used for teaching, research and demonstration activities in the areas of forestry, wildlife preservation and crop production.


Mr. Stewart attended Hindman High School, received a bachelor's degree from Berea College and a master's degree from UK. He began to write while he was a student at Berea.


His ability at whittling with a 25-cent pocket knife and an old stick helped keep him in meal money in his college days.


As a young man he taught biology and science at Caney Junior College in Pippa Passes and was connected with the National Bank of Lancaster. He served in the Navy during World War II, then returned to teaching. He taught at UK in the 1950s while working on a doctorate.


Another job during the early 1950s was recording people's use of the English language with a view toward determining various dialects, pronunciations and expressions. The work was part of an effort that was to culminate in the publication of a language atlas.


 Mr. Stewart also taught at several high schools in northern Kentucky and southern Ohio and at Morehead State College and Alice Lloyd College.


Adron Doran, Albert Stewart, Ione Chapman and James Still at Morehead in 1960.

The Untoward Hills, published by the Morehead State College Press, was reviewed in Masterplots Annual 100 Outstanding Books of the Year. Some of the book's 44 poems have appeared in Ladies Home Journal and Georgia Review, among other publications.


The book contains poems about Mr. Stewart's journey from childhood to his service in the Navy in World War II and back again.


Mr. Stewart was a recipient of the Stylus Award in poetry from UK. In 1995 he was the recipient of the Appalachian Treasure Award, presented at the annual  Morehead State University Appalachian Celebration.


Survivors include two sons, Michael Stewart of  Lancaster and Charles Albert Stewart of Texas, and two sisters.

 

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