Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren
The "Southern Review" Years, 1935-1942
“Here is a tidbit of news. Sunday afternoon [LSU’s] President Smith took me for an automobile ride and asked if a literary quarterly could be edited here if he could get the jack in large quantities. I was not coy. The magazine will be called the Southern Review.”—Robert Penn Warren to Allen Tate, March 20, 1935
“Cross your fingers and pray that Louisiana doesn’t go broke!”—Warren to Frank Owsley, March 21, 1935
At the beginning of 1935, Robert Penn Warren had every reason to be optimistic about the future. Having escaped the brink of unemployment the previous fall to join fellow Vanderbilt alumnus and Rhodes scholar Cleanth Brooks on the English faculty at Louisiana State University (which was enjoying a boom thanks to the favoritism shown by the Long regime), Warren was destined for arguably the most crucial period in his distinguished career. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression and America’s belated entry into World War II, the young author came into his own and established himself as a compelling new voice, perhaps the most versatile writer of his generation.
Continuing where Volume One of the Selected Letters left off, the missives from his Baton Rouge years show Warren exploring and testing the boundaries of his genius on a number of simultaneous fronts. Editing the Southern Review with Brooks was the center of his working life, and it offered him an almost immediate springboard to prominence on both sides of the Atlantic. He attended to his own writing as well and not only emerged as a celebrated poet with the publication of Thirty-Six Poems in 1936 and Eleven Poems on the Same Theme in 1942 but also published his first major fiction, the novel Night Rider, in 1939 and effectively completed a second, radically different book, At Heaven’s Gate. During the same period, he and Brooks drew directly upon their classroom challenges to design and launch a series of textbooks that gradually transformed the teaching of poetry and fiction in American colleges and universities.
What any number of commentators have called Warren’s “protean” energy is in full evidence in these letters. The range and sheer diversity of his correspondence reveal an extraordinarily keen mind and heightened imagination operating in concert with optimum efficiency. Scrupulously edited and thoroughly annotated by William Bedford Clark with an eye toward the needs of the lay reader as well as the specialist, Warren’s letters have the immediacy of skillful autobiography.
Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989) was born in Guthrie, Kentucky, and attended Vanderbilt University, where he became a member of the Fugitive movement. An acclaimed novelist, poet, critic, and teacher, the author of dozens of books, he was a man of letters in the truest sense. He was the only writer ever to receive Pulitzer Prizes in both fiction and poetry.
William Bedford Clark is a professor of English at Texas A&M University, the author of The American Vision of Robert Penn Warren, and the editor of volumes one and two of the Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren. He is also the general editor of volumes three through five.
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