cover image Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren

Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren

Robert Penn Warren. Louisiana State University Press, $49.95 (296pp) ISBN 978-0-8071-2536-6

The letters in this collection, published here for the first time and edited by Clark (The American Vision of Robert Penn Warren), span a decade in the life of the critic, poet and novelist Warren (1905-1989), from his early years as an emerging talent to just before his publishing debut with Thirty-Six Poems and the influential Understanding Poetry, co-written with Cleanth Brooks. In 1924, the 19-year-old Vanderbilt student was a junior member of John Crowe Ransom's Fugitive poets; he was befriended by poet Allen Tate and the regionalist cultural critic Donald Davidson, who received regular correspondence documenting Warren's progress, from his graduation from Vanderbilt with honors, through the Ph.D. program at Berkeley and a transfer (under a cloud) to Yale, to an agreeable Rhodes scholarship and finally to an ideal post in creative writing at Louisiana State University. Despite Warren's steady workload--which encompassed writing and publishing poems, reviews, short stories, a John Brown biography and the Agrarian symposium I'll Take My Stand--there's not much in these letters on the development of his literary ideas, and ""Red"" was too much of a Southern gentleman to reveal much in the way of intimate details. He relates a suicide attempt and an early love affair with circumlocutory coyness and sardonically evokes his hell-raising phase at Berkeley. Unfortunately, there is only one surviving love missive to his tempestuous first wife, Cinina, and one letter to Brooks before the cliffhanger ending as Warren embarks on his teaching career. (May)