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ROBERT PENN WARREN (1905-1989)

American novelist, poet, critic and educator. He was regarded as one of the best poets of his generation and was even better known as a novelist.

Born in 1905 in Kentucky, the settings of many of his novels and poems, he was accepted at the US Naval Academy, but an accident to his eye ended his naval career before it even began. He enrolled at Vanderbilt University, intending to study chemical engineering, but soon switched to literature and became part of a literary group calling themselves The Fugitives, considered to have been a force in the development of the Southern literary renaissance of the 1920s and 1930s. After graduating with honors in 1925, he sampled the literary climate at University of California at Berkeley, graduating with an M.A. and then accepted a fellowship at Yale. He disliked the literary atmosphere at Yale and by the fall of 1928 he had signed a contract for a biography of John Brown and went to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.

John Brown: The Making of a Martyr was published in 1929 and Warren returned to the U.S. to start on what would become a long a distinguished teaching and writing career, first at Southwestern College in Memphis Tennessee, then Vanderbilt, and finally at Louisiana Statue University in 1934. Despite Warren’s heavy teaching load he continued to write poetry, short novels and essays at a steady pace. In 1935 he started the magazine Southern Review, which he co-edited with Cleanth Brook, and which quickly became the most influential American literary publication.

Frustrated with his students, who he found ’deplorably unprepared,’ he and his colleague Cleanth Brooks, published An Approach to Literature (1936). This would mark the first of many works in a long collaboration. It was followed by Understanding Poetry (1938), Understanding Fiction (1945), and others, which would become standard textbooks for generations of college students, and change the way poetry and literature were taught.

In 1942 he accepted a position at the University of Minnesota, where he had fewer teaching responsibilities and more time to write and travel, and published his Pulitzer Prize wining novel All The Kings Men in 1946.

Always extremely popular in the classroom, he was lured to Yale where he began teaching as professor of playwriting in 1951. However, he resigned in 1955 and spent time traveling with his family and writing. Free from teaching, he entered an extremely productive period and wrote numerous novels, essays on current history and much poetry, including Promises: Poems, 1954-56 which won the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. By 1962 he was back at Yale, teaching a single course per year and still writing novels, essays, and much poetry. He continued to receive numerous awards, he won another Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1979 for For Now and Then: Poems 1976-1978, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1980), National Medal of Arts (1987). His appointment as the first Poet Laureate of the United States symbolized his leadership in nourishing literary endeavor throughout a long and fruitful career spanning seven decades. He died of prostrate cancer in 1989.

WRITINGS BY THE AUTHOR

POETRY:

Thirty-Six Poems, (1935)
Eleven Poems on the Same Theme, (1942)
Selected Poems: 1923-1943, (1944)
Brother to Dragons: A Tale in Verse and Voices,(1953), revised edition published as Brother to Dragons: A Tale in Verse and Voices--A New Version, (1979)
Promises: Poems, 1954-1956, (1957)
You, Emperors and Others: Poems, 1957-1960,(1960)
Selected Poems: New and Old, 1923-1966, (1966)
Incarnations: Poems, 1966-1968, (1968)
Audubon: A Vision, (1969)
Or Else: Poems, 1968-1974, (1974)
Selected Poems, 1923-1975, (1976)
Now and Then: Poems, 1976-1978, (1978)
Being Here: Poetry, 1977-1980, (1980)
Rumor Verified: Poems, 1979-1980, (1981)
Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, (1983)
New and Selected Poems, 1923-1985, (1985)
The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren, edited by John Burt (1998)

FICTION:

Night Rider,(1939)
At Heaven's Gate, (1943)
All the King's Men, (1946)
Blackberry Winter, (1946)
The Circus in the Attic, and Other Stories, (1947), reprinted 1968 – short stories
World Enough and Time, (1950), reprinted 1979
Band of Angels, (1955), reprinted 1994
The Cave, (1959)
The Gods of Mount Olympus, (1959) - adaptations of Greek myths for young readers
Wilderness: A Tale of the Civil War, (1961)
Flood: A Romance of Our Time, (1964)
Meet Me in the Green Glen, (1971)
A Place to Come To, (1977)

NONFICTION:

John Brown: The Making of a Martyr,(1929), reprinted 1970
(With others) I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition, 1930. * (Contributor) Herbert Agar and Allen Tate, editors, Who Owns America?: A New Declaration of Independence, 1936. * (Author of critical essay) Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, illustrated by Alexander Calder, 1946, reprinted, 1971. Segregation: The Inner Conflict in the South, (1956), reprinted 1994
Remember the Alamo!, (1958)
Selected Essays, (1958)
How Texas Won Her Freedom: The Story of Sam Houston and the Battle of San Jacinto, (1959) [booklet for the San Jacinto Museum of History]
The Legacy of the Civil War: Meditations on the Centennial, (1961), reprinted 1983
Who Speaks for the Negro?, (1965)
A Plea in Mitigation: Modern Poetry and the End of an Era , (1966) Homage to Theodore Dreiser, (1971) – criticism
Democracy and Poetry, (1975)
Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back, (1980) – essay
New and Selected Essays, (1989)
Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren, edited with an introduction by William Bedford Clark (2000)

WITH CLEANTH BROOKS:

An Approach to Literature, (1936) – editors with John T. Puser . Understanding Poetry: An Anthology for College Students, (1938) – editors
Understanding Fiction, (1943), - as editors; shortened version of 2nd edition published as Scope of Fiction, (1960), 3rd edition published under original title, (1979)
Modern Rhetoric, (1949), published as
Fundamentals of Good Writing: A Handbook of Modern Rhetoric, (1950), 2nd edition published under original title, 1958, 4th edition, 1979
Fundamentals of Good Writing, (1950) An Anthology of Stories from the Southern Review, (1953) – as editors
American Literature: The Makers and the Making, two volumes, (1974), with R. W. B. Lewis
Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren: A Literary Correspondence, edited by James A. Grimshaw, Jr., (1998. )

EDITOR:

A Southern Harvest: Short Stories by Southern Writers,(1937), reprinted, 1972
Short Story Masterpieces, (1954), with Albert Erskine
Six Centuries of Great Poetry, (1955), with Albert Erskine
A New Southern Harvest, (1957), with A. Erskine
Denis Devlin, Selected Poems, (1963), with AllenTate
Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays, (1966)
Randall Jarrell, 1914-1965, (1967)
John Greenleaf Whittier's Poetry: An Appraisal and a Selection, (1971)
Selected Poems of Herman Melville, (1971)
Katherine Anne Porter: A Collection of Critical Essays, (1979)
The Essential Melville, (1987)

OTHER:

A Robert Penn Warren Reader, (1987)
Portrait of a Father, (1988)

Robert Penn Warren was also a contributor to numerous publications, including: Virginia Quarterly Review, Southern Review, Mademoiselle, Sewanee Review, New Republic, Poetry, American Review, Harvard Advocate, Nation, American Scholar, New York Times Book Review, Holiday, Fugitive, Botteghe Oscure, Yale Review, and Saturday Review. Co-founding editor, Fugitive, 1922-25; founder and editor, with Cleanth Brooks, Southern Review, 1935-42; advisory editor, Kenyon Review, 1938-61.

FURTHER READINGS:

Warren's manuscripts and personal papers are in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library of Yale University.

Robert Penn Warren: A Biography by Joseph Blottner (1997) is the authorized and definitive biography.

Robert Penn Warren, by Charles H. Bohner (1964); revised edition 1981.

Robert Penn Warren and American Idealism, by John Burt (1988).

. Robert Penn Warren: The Dark and Bloody Ground, by Leonard Casper (1960)

The Blood-marriage of Earth and Sky: Robert Penn Warren's Later Novels, by Leonard Casper (1997)

Robert Penn Warren: A Bibliography by Mary Nace Huff (1968)

Robert Penn Warren: A Descriptive Bibliography, 1922-1979, by James A. Grimshaw Jr. (1981) - includes a brief foreword by Warren.



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