G. Sam Piatt
For The Independent
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.
Lee Pennington’s correspondence with Stuart and the collection of his books spanned 1957 through 1981. Lee Pennington graduated from McKell High School in 1958, and Stuart, an educator as well as a poet, short story writer and novelist, was principal there in 1957.
“While Jesse was alive, there was a frenzy to get books and get them signed,” Lee 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.
Lee Pennington’s collection includes Stuart’s first book, a very 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 Lee Pennington, but also the overall work of Lee and Joy Pennington.
Lee Pennington, 73, has published more than 1,300 poems worldwide and in numerous poetry collections. He’s had a lifelong interest in collecting folklore and is also a published playwright and journalist. He and Joy Pennington were co-owners of JoLe Productions, a film company they established in 1990.
They were travelers, visiting all the United States, all of the Canadian provinces except one, and 72 foreign countries.
Together, they produced 21 documentaries, including “The Mound Builders;” “Eyes That Look at the Sky: The Mystery of Easter Island;” “Solving the Mystery of Fort Mountain, Ga.;” and “Wales: History in Bondage.”
Joy Pennington, stricken with a fast-acting cancer, died at home March 23 with her husband at her side. She was 71. The couple 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.
Lee 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, while a student at Alice Lloyd College read Pennington’s book, “The Dark Hills of Jesse Stuart.” She said it changed her life and her entire outlook on literature. She also discovered last year Lee 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 U of L Libraries, Robert E. Fox Jr., had followed and appreciated Lee 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 1,000 of them from Jesse alone — that I had collected over the years,” Lee Pennington said. “Emily Hikes, 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 worldwide will have complete access through everything being placed onto digital. All very amazing.”
Lee Pennington will help with funding of the new gallery and archives area, said Janene Zaccone of the university’s Office of Communications and Marketing.