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Robert Penn Warren (April 24, 1905 – September 15, 1989) was an American poet, novelist, and literary critic and was one of the founders of New Criticism. He was also a charter member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. He received the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel for his novel All the King's Men (1946) and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1958 and 1979. He is the only person to have won Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and poetry.


Early years

Warren was born in Guthrie, Kentuckymarker, to Robert Warren and Anna Penn He graduated from Clarksville High School in Tennessee, Vanderbilt Universitymarker in 1925 and the University of California, Berkeleymarker in 1926. Warren later attended Yale Universitymarker and obtained his B. Litt. as a Rhodes Scholar from New College, Oxfordmarker, in Englandmarker in 1930. He also received a Guggenheim Fellowship to study in Italymarker during the rule of Benito Mussolini. That same year he began his teaching career at Southwestern College (now Rhodes Collegemarker) in Memphis, Tennesseemarker.


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. However, Warren recanted these views in the 1950s by writing an article in Life magazine on the Civil Rights Movement and adopted a high profile as a supporter of racial integration. He also published Who Speaks for the Negro, a collection of interviews with black civil rights leaders including Malcolm X and Martin Luther King in 1965, 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[4370].

Warren served as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, Poet Laureate, 1944-1945 and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1947, for his best known work, the novel All the King's Men, whose main character, Willie Stark, resembles the radical populist governor of Louisianamarker, Huey Pierce Long (1893-1935), whom Warren was able to observe closely while teaching at Louisiana State Universitymarker in Baton Rougemarker from 1933-42. Warren won Pulitzer Prizes in poetry in 1958 for Promises: Poems 1954-1956, and in 1979 for Now and Then. He is the only writer ever to win the Pulitzer in both fiction and poetry. All the King's Men, starring Broderick Crawford, became a highly successful film, winning 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.

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). 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 1980, Warren was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter.

Warren was co-author, with Cleanth Brooks, of Understanding Poetry, an influential literature textbook (which was followed by other similarly co-authored textbooks Understanding Fiction, which was praised by Southern Gothic and Roman Catholic writer Flannery O'Connor, and Modern Rhetoric written from what can be called a New Critical approach).

Personal life

Warren was married in 1930 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 (b. 1953) and Gabriel Penn Warren (b. 1955). He lived the latter part of his life in Fairfield, Connecticutmarker, and Stratton, Vermontmarker where he died of complications from bone cancer.


In April 2005, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp to mark the 100th anniversary of Penn 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.


  • Understanding Poetry (1938), college textbook, with Cleanth Brooks
  • Night Rider (1939)
  • At Heaven's Gate (1943)
  • Understanding Fiction (1943), with Cleanth Brooks
  • All the King's Men (1946)
  • Promises: Poems (1954 – 1956)
  • Meet Me in the Green Glen (1971)
  • Now and Then
  • John Brown: The Making of a Martyr
  • Thirty-six Poems
  • Eleven Poems on the Same Theme
  • Selected Poems, 1923 – 1943
  • Blackberry Winter
  • The Circus in the Attic (1968) (short story collection)
  • World Enough and Time (1950)
  • Brother to Dragons: A Tale in Verse and Voices (1953)
  • Band of Angels (1955)
  • Segregation: The Inner Conflict in the South
  • Selected Essays
  • The Cave (1959)
  • Remember the Alamo! (1958)
  • You, Emperors, and Others: Poems 1957-1960
  • The Legacy of the Civil War
  • Wilderness: A Tale of the Civil War (1961)
  • Flood: A Romance of Our Time (1964)
  • Who Speaks for the Negro? (1965)
  • Selected Poems: New and Old 1923 – 1966
  • Incarnations: Poems 1966 – 1968
  • Christmas Gift 1937
  • Democracy and Poetry (1975)
  • A Place to Come to (1977) (final novel)
  • Brother to Dragons: A Tale in Verse and Vorces - A New Version (1979)
  • Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back (1980)
  • Rumor Verified: Poems 1979-1980 (1981)


  1. Ehrlich, Eugene and Gorton Carruth. The Oxford Illustrated Literary Guide to the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982: 291. ISBN 0195031865
  2. Edwin Thomas Wood, "On Native Soil: A Visit with Robert Penn Warren," Mississippi Quarterly 38 (Winter 1984)
  3. Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: 27. ISBN 086576008X
  4. Jefferson Lecturers at NEH Website (retrieved January 22, 2009).
  5. Catalog listing for Democracy and Poetry at Harvard University Press website (retrieved February 12, 2009).
  • Millichap, Joseph R.. Robert Penn Warren after Audubon:The Work of Aging and the Quest for Transcendence in His Later Poetry. Baton Rouge, LA. :Louisiana State University Press, 2009 ISBN 978-0-8071-3456-6


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