Born: July 17, 1914, Knott County, Kentucky
Died: April 1, 2001, Knott County, Kentucky
Albert F. Stewart, a poet, teacher, and editor, has been called the “patron saint” of two generations of Appalachian writers. He started what became the annual Appalachian Writers Workshop and founded and edited Appalachian Heritage magazine, which published many of the region’s emerging writers and poets.
“Albert Stewart worked all his life to cultivate the literary fields of Kentucky so that younger writers might find opportunity,” wrote Gurney Norman (a 2019 Hall of Fame inductee). “As poet, teacher, editor, publisher, and organizer of writers’ conferences, and as a personal mentor to young writers for 50 years, myself among them, Al Stewart designed his own literary career, a career equal in value to that of any post-war Kentucky writer.”
Stewart was born on Yellow Mountain, the son of William and Lucinda Sparkman Stewart. His mother died in childbirth when he was 2, and Stewart moved to Hindman Settlement School at age 5. Novelist Lucy Furman, a 2020 Hall of Fame inductee who taught at the school, “practically adopted me,” Stewart said. She also became his literary mentor. Stewart graduated from Hindman High School in 1932 and Berea College in 1936. He earned an M.A. from the University of Kentucky in 1943.
Following Navy service in the South Pacific during World War II, Stewart had a lifelong career in education. After teaching English and biology in several high schools in Northern Kentucky and Southern Ohio, he taught English at the University of Kentucky in the 1950s while working on a doctorate he never completed. He moved on to teaching jobs at Caney Junior College, Morehead State University, and Alice Lloyd College. While at Morehead, Stewart started a writing workshop and a literary magazine.
He founded Appalachian Heritage magazine in 1972 and edited it for 12 years, first at Alice Lloyd College and then at Hindman Settlement School. “There was so much claptrap being written about people in the area, I thought I’d just do a magazine that showed everybody wasn’t a poverty-stricken moron up here,” he said. After Stewart retired as editor, the magazine moved to Berea College and was later renamed Appalachian Review. Stewart organized what became the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop at Hindman Settlement School in 1977 and taught there for many years.
Berea College named him a distinguished alumnus in 1993, and Morehead State University gave him the Appalachian Treasure Award in 1995.
When state highway planners decided in 1976 to build a new Kentucky 80 between Prestonsburg and Hazard, the route went through Stewart’s 300-acre ancestral farm, which he called the “Kingdom of Yellow Mountain” and was the inspiration for his nature poetry. Stewart fought the plan, but lost. His home — a large cabin built by his grandfather — was moved several hundred yards away to save it from destruction. He later donated most of the property to the University of Kentucky on the condition that the trees and underground minerals be preserved.
Stewart was married and divorced twice. He had two sons, Michael and Charles. His papers are archived at Berea College.
The Untoward Hills. Morehead State College Press, 1962
The Holy Season: Walking in the Wild. Berea College Press, 1993
A Man of Circumstance and Selected Yellow Mountain Poems 1946-1996. Lubbock, Texas: Limited Editions Press, 1996