Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren
The Apprentice Years 1924-1934
“I don’t know of any trove of Warren letters of this period that Clark has not made himself master of. And I’m impressed by the detail of his commentary. I can only imagine the kind of legwork he had to do.”—John Burt, editor of The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren
In America’s twentieth century, there is no man of letters more versatile, distinguished, and influential than the poet, novelist, edi-tor, critic, social commentator, and teacher Robert Penn Warren (1905–1989). The most intimate of Warren’s “letters,” his personal correspondence, now join his published canon under William Bedford Clark’s expert supervision. Volume 1, The Apprentice Years, forms a kind of epistolary coming-of-age novel, taking Warren from the awkwardness of emerging genius during his Fugitive student years at Vanderbilt to the brink of producing great work in a newly appointed post at Louisiana State University.
Warren’s letters, all but one previously unpublished, fascinate in their revelations, such as the author’s surprisingly tangled relationship with his parents, his delicate health, and the gossip about major literary figures, including Allen Tate, John Crowe Ransom, Donald Davidson, and Laura Riding. But beyond rich biographical detail, they offer a veritable self-portrait of the fledgling artist: “When a person writes a letter it is nearly as much one to himself as to the person who takes it from the postbox.” The precocious, self-conscious, yet sensitive young Warren transforms into the sardonic, irreverent aesthete/wit “Red” and finally acquires a voice distinctively “Warrenesque,” confident and sophisticated. Thus the imaginative as well as literal aspects of these years in Warren’s life are conveyed, his writing persona and historical person always an intriguing comparison.
Highly accessible, unfailingly interesting, and scrupulously annotated, The Apprentice Years will satisfy scholar and lay reader alike, providing a unique window on what it means to “profess” the writer’s calling in an era of rapid change. When complete, the selected letters of Robert Penn Warren will prove an indispensable addition to the author’s literary oeuvre.
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.
Randy Hendricks is a professor of English and dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of West Georgia. He is the author of Lonelier than God: Robert Penn Warren and the Southern Exile and a collection of short stories, The Twelfth Year and Other Times.
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.
James A. Perkins, professor emeritus of English and public relations at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania, is the editor of The Cass Mastern Material: The Core of Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men.” Together, Hendricks and Perkins have edited For the Record: A Robert Drake Reader; David Madden: A Writer for All Genres; and with William Bedford Clark, volumes three through five of the Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren.
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