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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.
Thirty-Six Poems, (1935)
John Brown: The Making of a Martyr,(1929), reprinted 1970
WITH CLEANTH BROOKS:
An Approach to Literature, (1936) – editors with John T. Puser .
Understanding Poetry: An Anthology for College Students, (1938) – editors
A Southern Harvest: Short Stories by Southern Writers,(1937), reprinted, 1972
A Robert Penn Warren Reader, (1987)
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.
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.