Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989), a native of Guthrie, Kentucky, became the first official poet laureate of the United States in 1986. He won the Pulitzer Prize three times: for his novel All the King's Men in 1947, for Promises: Poems 1954-1956 in 1957, and for Now and Then: Poems 1976-1978 in 1979. He taught at several universities, including Yale, Louisiana State, and the University of Minnesota, and was an essayist, editor, and critic.
Warren was precocious as a child, and his education accelerated when he began attending Vanderbilt University at sixteen years old. There he met professors John Crowe Ransom and Donald Davidson, and classmates Allen Tate, Andrew Nelson Lytle, and Cleanth Brooks—colleagues and friends who would remain in his inner circle for most of his life. He joined the Fugitives poetry circle, which later morphed into the Southern Agrarians group of writers. After graduating from Vanderbilt, he obtained a master’s degree from University of California at Berkeley, and then pursued further studies at Yale. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship at New College in Oxford, and graduated with a B.Litt.
After passing his qualifying exams in Oxford, he decided not to continue toward a Ph.D., and began a professorship with Southwestern College in Memphis, Tennessee. He and Emma Cinina Brescia publicly announced their marriage, which ended later in divorce.
When he taught at Louisiana State University, he and Cleanth Brooks founded The Southern Review journal and conference in 1936. They also wrote manuals to teach undergraduates how to read literature and poetry, which eventually became a foundational textbook, Understanding Poetry.
Warren began teaching at University of Minnesota in 1942, completing All the King’s Men in 1946. When he taught at Yale, he and writer Eleanor Clark became reacquainted and married in 1952. They had a daughter and son, Rosanna and Gabriel.
In 1956 Warren wrote Segregation: The Inner Conflict in the South. With this text he chronicles personal conversations with white and black Southerners in four states, and interviews himself, denouncing segregation and sharing his thoughts as a white Southern man grappling with the burden of history.Warren continued to study the historical underpinnings of the civil rights movement and the meaning of American democracy. In 1964 he conducted a series of interviews with civil rights activists and leaders. This material became the groundwork for his 1965 book, Who Speaks for the Negro?. Warren wrote poetry, fiction, and nonfiction that explored the significance of identity, nationhood, death, among other themes.
In 1989, Robert Penn Warren died of cancer in his and Eleanor's home in Vermont. Eleanor Clark passed away in 1996.
1929: John Brown: The Making of a Martyr
1931: Old and Blind
1936: Thirty-six Poems
1938: An Approach to Literature with Cleanth Brooks and John Thibaut Purser
1939: Understanding Poetry with Cleanth Brooks
1939: Night Rider
1942: Eleven Poems on the Same Theme
1943: At Heaven's Gate
1943: Understanding Fiction with Cleanth Brooks
1944: Selected Poems, 1923–1943
- Melville the Poet, The Kenyon Review 8 (2). 208-223.
- All the King's Men
- Blackberry Winter: A Story Illustrated by Wightman Williams
1947: The Circus in the Attic, and Other Stories
- Fundamentals of Good Writing: A Handbook of Modern Rhetoric with Cleanth Brooks
- World Enough and Time
1953: Brother to Dragons: A Tale in Verse and Voices
1955: Band of Angels
1956: Segregation: The Inner Conflict in the South
1957: Promises: Poems: 1954–1956
- Selected Essays
- Remember the Alamo!
- The Cave
- The Gods of Mount Olympus
- How Texas Won Her Freedom
- All the King's Men: A Play
- You, Emperors, and Others: Poems 1957–1960
- The Legacy of the Civil War
- Wilderness: A Tale of the Civil War
1964: Flood: A Romance of Our Time
1966: Selected Poems: New and Old 1923–1966
1968: Incarnations: Poems 1966–1968
1969: Audubon: A Vision
- Homage to Theodor Dreiser
- John Greenleaf Whittier's Poetry: An Appraisal and a Selection
- Meet Me in the Green Glen
- American Literature: The Makers and the Making, with Cleanth Brooks and R.W.B. Lewis
- Or Else: Poem/Poems 1968–1974
1975: Democracy and Poetry
- Selected Poems: 1923–1976
- A Place to Come to
1978: Now and Then: Poems 1976–1978
1979: Brother to Dragons: A Tale in Verse and Voices - A New Version
- Being Here: Poetry 1977–1980
- Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back
1981: Rumor Verified: Poems 1979–1980
1983: Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce
1985: New and Selected Poems: 1923–1985
1988: Portrait of a Father
1989: New and Selected Essays
1998: The Collected Poems, edited by John Burt
2000: All the King's Men: Three Stage Versions, edited by James A. Grimshaw, Jr. and James A. Perkins
2002: All the King's Men: Restored Edition, edited by Noel Polk
2010: The Poets Laureate Anthology