Robert Penn Warren flip

Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989) in 1968. Photo by Ephemera. Public domain, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Robert Penn Warren
Born April 24, 1905
Guthrie, Kentucky, United States
Died September 15, 1989 (aged 84)
Stratton, Vermont, United States
Occupation Poet, novelist
Nationality United States United States
Alma mater Vanderbilt University
University of California at Berkeley
Oxford University
Yale University

Robert Penn Warren (April 24, 1905 - September 15, 1989) was an American poet, novelist, and literary critic and was one of the founders of the New Criticism. He was also a charter member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. He founded the influential literary journal The Southern Review with Cleanth Brooks in 1935. He is the only person to have won the Pulitzer Prize in both fiction and poetry.



Warren was born in Guthrie, Kentucky, which is almost exactly on the state line, to Robert Warren and Anna (Penn).[1] Warren's mother's family had roots in Virginia, having given their name to the community of Penn's Store in Patrick County, Virginia.[2]

Robert Penn Warren graduated from Clarksville High School in Clarksville, Tennessee; Vanderbilt University in 1925; and the University of California, Berkeley in 1926. Warren later attended Yale University, and obtained his B. Litt. as a Rhodes Scholar from New College, Oxford, in England in 1930. He also received a Guggenheim Fellowship to study in Italy during the rule of Benito Mussolini. That same year he began his teaching career at Southwestern College (now Rhodes College) in Memphis, Tennessee.


While still an undergraduate at Vanderbilt, Warren became associated with the group of poets there known as the Fugitives, and somewhat later, during the early 1930s, Warren and some of the same writers formed a group known as the Southern Agrarians. He contributed "The Briar Patch" to the Agrarian manifesto I'll Take My Stand along with 11 other Southern writers and poets (including fellow Vanderbilt poet/critics John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Donald Davidson). In "The Briar Patch" the young Warren defends racial segregation, in line with the traditionalist conservative political leanings of the Agrarian group, although Davidson deemed Warren's stances in the essay so progressive that he argued for excluding it from the collection.[3] However, Warren recanted these views in an article on the Civil Rights Movement, "Divided South Searches Its Soul", which appeared in the July 9, 1956 issue of Life magazine. A month later, Warren published an expanded version of the article as a small book titled Segregation: The Inner Conflict in the South.[4] He subsequently adopted a high profile as a supporter of racial integration. In 1965, he published Who Speaks for the Negro?, a collection of interviews with black civil rights leaders including Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, thus further distinguishing his political leanings from the more conservative philosophies associated with fellow Agrarians such as Tate, Cleanth Brooks, and particularly Davidson. Warren's interviews with civil rights leaders are at the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky.[5]

His best known work, the novel All the King's Men, whose main character, Willie Stark, resembles the radical populist governor of Louisiana, Huey Pierce Long (1893-1935), whom Warren was able to observe closely while teaching at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge from 1933-42.

Warren was co-author, with Cleanth Brooks, of 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.

Personal lifeEdit

Warren was secretly married in the summer of 1929 to Emma Brescia until their divorce in 1951. His second marriage was in 1952 to Eleanor Clark, with whom he had two children, Rosanna Phelps Warren (born 1953) and Gabriel Penn Warren (born 1955). He lived the latter part of his life in Fairfield, Connecticut, and then in Stratton, Vermont where he died of complications from bone cancer. He is buried at Stratton, Vermont, and, at his request, a memorial marker is situated in the Warren family gravesite in Guthrie, Kentucky.



The Robert Penn Warren Birthplace Museum. Photo by Randy Pritchett. Licensed under Creative Commons, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Warren served as the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, in 1944 and 1945.

He received the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel for his 1946 novel All the King's Men.[6] All the King's Men, was made into a highly successful film, starring Broderick Crawford, which won 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. The opera Willie Stark by Carlisle Floyd, based on the novel, was premiered in 1981.

Warren won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1958 for Promises: Poems 1954-1956, and in 1979 for Now and Then. He is the only writer ever to have won the Pulitzer in both fiction and poetry.[7]

In 1974, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Warren for the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Warren's lecture was entitled "Poetry and Democracy" (subsequently published under the title Democracy and Poetry).[8][9] In 1980, Warren was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter. In 1981, Warren was selected as a MacArthur Fellow and later was named as the first U.S. Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry on February 26, 1986. In 1987, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.[10]

In April 2005, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp to mark the 100th anniversary of Warren's birth. Introduced at the post office in his native Guthrie, it depicts the author as he appeared in a 1948 photograph, with a background scene of a political rally designed to evoke the setting of All the King's Men. His son and daughter, Gabriel and Rosanna Warren, were in attendance.

Vanderbilt University houses the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities,[11] which is sponsored by the College of Arts and Science. It began its programs in January 1988, and in 1989 received a $480,000 Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The center promotes "interdisciplinary research and study in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences."



  • Thirty-six Poems. Alcestis Press, 1936.
  • Eleven Poems on the Same Theme. New Directions, 1942.
  • Selected Poems, 1923-1943. Harcourt, 1944.
  • Brother to Dragons: A tale in verse and voices (long poem). New York: Random House, 1953.
    • Brother to Dragons: A tale in verse and voices – A New Version. New York: Random House, 1979.
  • Promises: Poems, 1954-1956. New York: Random House, 1957.
  • You, Emperors, and Others: Poems, 1957-1960. New York: Random House, 1960.
  • Selected PoemsN New and old, 1923-1966. New York: Random House, 1966.
  • Incarnations: Poems, 1966-1968. New York: Random House, 1968.
  • Audubon: A Vision (long poem). New York: Random House, 1969.
  • Or Else: Poem/Poems, 1968-1974. New York: Random House, 1974.
  • Selected Poems, 1923-1976. New York: Random House, 1977.
  • Now and Then: Poems, 1976-1978. New York: Random House, 1978.
  • Being Here: Poetry, 1977-1980. New York: Random House, 1980.
  • Rumor Verified: Poems, 1979-1980. New York: Random House, 1981.
  • Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce (long poem). New York: Random House, 1983.
  • New & Selected Poems, 1923-1985. New York: Random House, 1985.
  • Collected Poems (edited by John Burt). Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1998.[12]


  • Night Rider. Houghton, 1939.
  • At Heaven's Gate. Harcourt, l943.
  • All the King's Men. Harcourt, 1946.
  • World Enough and Time. New York: Random House, 1950.
  • Band of Angels. New York: Random House, 1955.
  • The Cave. New York: Random House, 1959.
  • Wilderness: A tale of the Civil War. New York: Random House, 1961.
  • Flood: A romance of Our time. New York: Random House, 1964.
  • Meet Me in the Green Glen. New York: Random House, 1971.
  • A Place to Come To. New York: Random House, 1977.

Short fictionEdit

  • Blackberry Winter. Cummington, MA: Cummington Press, 1946.
  • The Circus in the Attic, and other stories. Harcourt, 1947.



  • An Approach to Literature (with Cleanth Brooks & John Thibaut Purser). Louisiana State University Press, 1936; Crofts, 1939; Prentice-Hall, 1975.[13]
  • Understanding Poetry (with Cleanth Brooks). New York: Holt, 1938; 4th edition, 1976.
  • Understanding Fiction (with Cleanth Brooks). Crofts, 1943; 2nd Edition, Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1959.
  • Fundamentals of Good Writing: A handbook of modern rhetoric (with Cleanth Brooks). Harcourt, 1950; 2nd edition, 1958; 4th edition, 1979.
  • American Literature: The makers and the making (with Cleanth Brooks & R.W.B. Lewis. New York: St. Martin's, 1974.


  • Homage to Theodore Dreiser: On the centennial of his birth. New York: Random House, 1971.
  • John Greenleaf Whittier's Poetry: An appraisal and a selection. University of Minnesota Press, 1971.
  • Selected Essays. New York: Random House, 1958.
  • Portrait of a Father. University Press of Kentucky, 1988.
  • Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back. University Press of Kentucky, 1980.
  • New and Selected Essays. New York: Random House, 1989.

History and biographyEdit

  • John Brown: The making of a martyr. Payson & Clarke, 1929; Scholarly Press, 1970.
  • Segregation: The inner conflict in the south. New York: Random House, 1956.
  • The Legacy of the Civil War: Meditations on the centennial. New York: Random House, 1961.
  • Who Speaks for the Negro. New York: Random House, 1965.


  • Remember the Alamo. New York: Random House, 1958.
  • The Gods of Mount Olympus. New York: Random House, 1959.
  • How Texas Won Her Freedom. San Jacinto Museum of History, 1959.

Collected editionsEdit

  • A Robert Penn Warren Reader. New York: Random House, 1987.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy[14]


  • All the King's Men: A play (1960).[14]

See alsoEdit



  1. Ehrlich, Eugene and Gorton Carruth. The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982: 291. ISBN 0-19-503186-5
  2. Patrick County People, Free State of Patrick
  3. Wood, Edwin Thomas. "On Native Soil: A Visit with Robert Penn Warren," Mississippi Quarterly 38 (Winter 1984)
  4. Metress, Christopher. "Fighting battles one by one: Robert Penn Warren's Segregation", The Southern Review, Winter 1996.
  5. Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History
  6. Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: 27. ISBN 0-86576-008-X
  7. Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: 27. ISBN 0-86576-008-X
  8. Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website (retrieved January 22, 2009).
  9. Catalog listing for Democracy and Poetry at Harvard University Press website (retrieved February 12, 2009).
  10. Lifetime Honors - National Medal of Arts
  11. Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities
  12. The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren, Google Books, Web, Mar. 29, 2013.
  13. James A. Grimshaw, Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren: Notes on their literary correspondence. Mississippi Quarterly 48:1 (Winter 1994). Questia, Web, Mar. 28, 2013.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Books by Robert Penn Warren, Robert Penn warren (1905-1989), Brandeis University. Web, Mar. 28, 2013.

External linksEdit


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