Late Kentucky poet laureate’s cufflinks return to family via Pellissippi State

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Ed Francisco, left, Pellissippi State English professor and writer-in-residence, recently presented to the family of the late Jesse Stuart a set of cufflinks that once belonged to the Kentucky author and poet laureate. Pictured with Francisco are, from left, Gary North; his wife, Marty North (Stuart’s niece); and their son, Mike North. Mike North is assistant dean of Pellissippi State’s Division Street Campus.

A pair of cufflinks recently united the Pellissippi State Community College community with relatives of the well-known Appalachian author Jesse Stuart. Stuart (1907-1984), Kentucky’s poet laureate in 1954, is most famous for his novels “Taps for Private Tussie” and “The Thread That Runs So True.”

On their decades-long journey, the cufflinks, a ruby-eyed fish design, passed through the hands of three well-known Appalachian writers: Stuart, George Scarbrough and Edward Francisco.

Francisco, English professor and writer-in-residence at Pellissippi State, is the author of several books of fiction and poetry. He is also a member of the Oxford Roundtable at the University of Oxford. It was Francisco who arranged the gathering at which he presented the cufflinks to Jesse Stuart’s niece, Marty North. Marty lives in Farragut with her husband, Gary North.

Francisco tells the story of how he came to have the cufflinks that were originally owned by Stuart.

“Jesse had a writer friend, George Scarbrough [1915-2008], who admired the cufflinks one day,” said Francisco. Stuart, in turn, presented the set to Scarbrough as a gift. Scarbrough went on to become famous in his own right, with a novel and five major books of poetry, one of which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 1990.

“Years later, George and I became friends—we both taught at writing conferences,” Francisco said. “One day I complimented him on his cufflinks, and he said, ‘These belonged to Jesse Stuart, and I’m giving them to you. You wear French cuffs and I don’t, and probably never will.’”

About 15 years after receiving the cufflinks, Francisco says, he discovered that a Pellissippi State co-worker, Mike North, was one of Jesse Stuart’s great-nephews. The assistant dean of the college’s Division Street Campus is also the son of Marty and Gary North.

Francisco decided then that the cufflinks needed to be returned to the Stuart family. The transfer was recently completed at the Pellissippi Campus.

Marty North recalls her many childhood visits to W-Hollow, Jesse Stuart’s home outside of Greenup, in the northeast corner of Kentucky.

“So many people would just walk up to the door,” she said, “hoping that Uncle Jesse would be there and they could see him. Aunt Deane was so gracious. If he was busy writing, she’d explain that, but many times they’d invite people in.

“Jesse loved people and was quite a talker. He was a very outgoing, boisterous, interesting man, and Aunt Deane was a gentle, calm, elegant lady who edited everything he wrote. They cared very much for each other and their daughter, Jane.

“I was very delighted to get the cufflinks from Ed [Francisco]. It is really a treat to have those of Uncle Jesse’s.”