Centennial Tribute to Robert Penn Warren Will Take Place at Yale
|Robert Penn Warren|
On November 1, Harold Bloom, John Hollander, Rosanna Warren and others will hold a public discussion at Yale on the great novelist, poet, teacher and critic Robert Penn Warren in honor of the centenary of his birth.
Best known as the Pulitzer-prize winning author of “All the King’s Men,” his most famous of ten published novels, Warren was also a celebrated poet and a major literary critic. He was an early proponent of the New Criticism, an approach demanding a close analysis of text, which dominated the study of literature in American universities from the 1940s through the 1960s.
Warren was born in Kentucky in 1905 and attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. At Vanderbilt, he became closely associated with the poet Allen Tate, at one time his roommate, and the poet John Crowe Ransom, who was his teacher. Ransom and Tate were part of a larger coterie of writers and poets, known as the Fugitives, who lived in Nashville in the 1920s and founded the literary journal that gave them their name. The Fugitive was the first magazine to publish Warren’s poetry, and it became synonymous with a literary movement, of which Warren was part, that was steeped in the culture and idiom of the old South.
After graduating from Vanderbilt and doing graduate work at the University of California and Yale, Warren went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. Returning from England in 1938, he took up his first teaching post at Southwestern College in Memphis, Tennessee. A year later he returned to Vanderbilt, where he taught for three years. It was during his next academic tenure, at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, that Warren established his reputation as a teacher and literary critic. Here he was instrumental in founding the highly influential literary journal The Southern Review. With Cleanth Brooks, a colleague at Louisiana State, Warren authored the textbook “Understanding Poetry” and a companion volume “Understanding Fiction,” which changed how literature was taught in America for the next quarter of a century. While at Louisiana State, Warren wrote “Night Rider” (1939), his first novel to be published.
In 1942, Warren left Louisiana State for the University of Minnesota, where he taught creative writing. He wrote several more novels while there, including “All the King’s Men,” for which he was awarded his first of three Pulitzer Prizes.
Warren came to Yale in 1950. He taught playwriting here until 1956 and was a professor of English from 1961, when the University awarded him an honorary doctor of letters, to 1973. After a long hiatus from poetry, he returned in the 1950s to writing verse, receiving popular and critical acclaim and two more Pulitzer Prizes. Three years before his death in 1989, Warren was named Poet Laureate of the United States.
The papers of Robert Penn Warren are in Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
Warren’s daughter Rosanna, who is herself an acclaimed poet, will offer reminiscences of her father at the discussion, and recordings of Warren reading his own poetry will be played.
Also participating in the discussion will be David Rosen, a friend of the Warren family; Brandeis professor John Burt, who is Warren’s literary executor; Nancy Lewis, widow of R.W.B. Lewis and Warren family friend; and the critically acclaimed Hollywood writer and producer David Milch, who became a protégé of Warren as a student at Yale.
Free and open to the public, “A Tribute to Robert Penn Warren” will take place at 5 p.m., Room 101, Linsly-Chittenden Hall, 61 High St.