December 10, 2012
G. Sam Piatt
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Lee Pennington has donated his personal papers, books and artifacts – including his Jesse Stuart collection of books and letters – to the Special Collections Department at the University of Louisville, the university said Wednesday.
They will be displayed in an area of the Elkstrom Library to be named the Lee and Joy Pennington Cultural Heritage Gallery, which will be officially opened in the spring of 2013.
Pennington’s correspondence with Stuart and the collection of his books spanned the years from 1957 through 1981. Pennington graduated from McKell High School in 1957 and Stuart, an educator as well as a poet, short story writer and novelist, was principal there at the time.
“While Jesse was alive there was a frenzy to get books and get them signed,” Pennington said in a recent interview from his home in Middletown, outside Louisville.
His Stuart collection includes nearly 60 volumes and nearly 250 books.
“This includes multiple volumes, of course. For several years I’ve had it insured for $50,000,” he said. “Some prices have risen; some gone down. You can get a hint by checking out eBay for Jesse’s things.”
A smaller collection, which was owned by Don Grayson, went up for sale several years ago for $36,000.
Pennington’s collection includes Stuart’s first book, a vary rare first edition copy of “Harvest of Youth.” That was a collection of poems Stuart paid to have published in 1930. He later called his action a “literary sin” and burned nearly all of the copies of the small volume he had received from the publisher.
The special gallery will include not only Stuart’s books and correspondence between him and Pennington, but also the overall work of Lee and Joy Pennington.
Lee, 73, has published more than 1,300 poems worldwide and in numerous poetry collections. He’s had a lifelong interest in collecting folklore. He’s a published playwright and journalist. He and Joy Pennington were co-owners of JoLee Productions, a film company they established in 1990.
They were travelers, visiting all the United States, all of the Canada provinces except one, and 72 foreign countries.
Together, they produced 21 documentaries, including The Mound Builders; EyeFort Mountain, Ga.; and Wales: History in Bondage.
Joy, stricken with a fast-acting cancer, died at home, March 23, with Lee at her side. She was 71. They had been married 49 years.
They both taught at the University of Kentucky Jefferson Community College from the time it opened until they both retired in 1999.
Pennington learned last fall of U of L’s interest in obtaining the collection. The head of the university’s Special Collections, for Ekstrom Library, Delinda Stevens Buie, had been a student of Lee’s at Alice Lloyd College. She said when she read Pennington’s book, “The Dark Hills of Jesse Stuart,” it changed her life and her whole outlook on literature. She also knew that Pennington had been looking for somewhere to donate his collection where it could be cared for and used by the public.
Also, the dean of University of Louisville Libraries, Robert E. Fox Jr., had followed and appreciated Pennington’s career as well as Stuart’s.
“Members of U of L’s Special Collections Department came to my house in November and took boxes of letters out of the attic – as many as a thousand of them from Jesse alone—that I had collected over the years.” Pennington said. “An archivist has worked off and on since then getting things cleaned, identified and stored in acid-free containers.
“I am simply in awe – overwhelmed at the whole project. My first thought was to just get everything placed for protection; now it’s all being positioned in a world-class research institution so that scholars world-wide will have complete access through everything being placed onto digital. All very amazing.”
Pennington will help with funding of the new gallery and archives area, said Janene Zaccone, with the university’s office of communications and marketing.
G. SAM PIATT can be beached at (606) 932-3619 of Gsamwriter@aol.com.