Southern Voices from the Past – Robert Penn Warren

Robert Penn Warren, 1905 – 1989

Robert Penn Warren: A Genuine Southern Voice for the Ages

Personal Life 

Robert Penn Warren was born in Guthrie, Kentucky, near the Tennessee-Kentucky border, to Robert Warren and Anna Penn. Warren graduated from Clarksville High School in Clarksville, Tennessee, Vanderbilt University in 1925 and the University of California, Berkeley (M.A.) in 1926. Warren pursued further graduate study at Yale University from 1927 to 1928 and was a Rhodes Scholar earning his literature degree from New College, Oxford, in England in 1930. That same year he began his teaching career at Southwestern College (now Rhodes College) in Memphis, Tennessee.

Warren had two children, Rosanna Phelps Warren (born 1953) and Gabriel Penn Warren (born 1955) with his second wife, Eleanor Clark. While at Louisiana State University, he resided at Twin Oaks (later known as the Robert Penn Warren House) in Prairieville, Louisiana. He resided in his latter years in Fairfield, Connecticut, and Stratton, Vermont where he died. Though buried at Stratton, Vermont, he had requested a memorial marker be placed at the Warren family gravesite in Guthrie, Kentucky.

Career

Warren’s best-known work is All the King’s Men, a novel that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947. Main character Willie Stark resembles Huey Pierce Long (1893–1935), the radical populist governor of Louisiana whom Warren was able to observe closely while teaching at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge from 1933 to 1942. All the King’s Men became a highly successful film, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1949. A 2006 film adaptation by writer/director Steven Zaillian featured Sean Penn as Willie Stark and Jude Law as Jack Burden.

Warren served as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, 1944–1945 (now, Poet Laureate), and won two Pulitzer Prizes in poetry, in 1958 for Promises: Poems 1954–1956 and in 1979 for Now and ThenPromises also won the annual National Book Award for Poetry. In 1980, Warren was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter.

Warren co-authored with Cleanth Brooks, Understanding Poetry, an influential literature textbook. It was followed by other similarly co-authored textbooks, including Understanding Fiction, which was praised by Southern Gothic and Roman Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor, and Modern Rhetoric, which adopted what can be called a New Critical perspective.

Works (Partial listing)

John Brown: The Making of a Martyr (1929)
Old and Blind (1931)
Thirty-six Poems (1936)
An Approach to Literature (1938), with Cleanth Brooks and John Thibaut Purser 
Understanding Poetry (1939), with Cleanth Brooks
Night Rider (1939). Novel
At Heaven’s Gate (1943). Novel
Understanding Fiction (1943), with Cleanth Brooks
All the King’s Men (1946). Novel
Blackberry Winter: A Story Illustrated by Wightman Williams (1946)
The Circus in the Attic, and Other Stories (1947)
A Wilderness: A Tale of the Civil War (1961). Novel
Flood: A Romance of Our Time (1964). Novel 
Who Speaks for the Negro? (1965)
Incarnations: Poems 1966–1968 (1968)
Audubon: A Vision (1969). Book-length poem
Homage to Theodor Dreiser (1971)
Meet Me in the Green Glen (1971). Novel
American Literature: The Makers and the Making (1974), with Cleanth Brooks and R.W.B. Lewis
Democracy and Poetry (1975)
A Place to Come to (1977). Novel
Brother to Dragons: A Tale in Verse and Voices- A New Version (1979)
Handbook of Modern Rhetoric (1950), with Cleanth Brooks
Enough and Time (1950). Novel
Band of Angels (1955). Novel
Segregation: The Inner Conflict in the South (1956)
Remember the Alamo! (1958). For children
The Cave (1959). Novel
The Gods of Mount Olympus (1959). For children
How Texas Won Her Freedom (1959). For children
The Legacy of the Civil War (1961)

1946