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Robert Penn Warren

Born in Guthrie, Kentucky, Robert Penn Warren was educated at Vanderbilt University, the University of California at Berkeley, Yale University, and Oxford University. At Vanderbilt he was associated with the literary group called the Fugitives, which evolved into the Agrarian movement. The Agrarians advocated traditional values and an agricultural economy as a way of opposing industrialization and its accompanying alienation. At the time, Warren also wrote in support of racial segregation, a position he later came to regret. At Louisiana State University he cofounded the Southern Review before moving on to teach at Minnesota and Yale. His poetry of the 1930s and 1940s showed the combined influence of key modernists like Eliot and of his fellow "Fugitive" Allen Tate, along with the seventeenth-century metaphysical poets. By the late 1930s he was also devoting much of his time to writing fiction, and from 1944 until 1953 he published no poetry. Thereafter, while he remained strongly interested in narrative poetry and often mounted moral arguments in verse, he also adopted more open forms, more colloquial diction, and more historically engaged subjects. As the selection here demonstrates, he sustained an interest not only in historical topics but also in the intimate psychological dynamics of family relations. He was also a master of restrained irony. This mix of strengths, sustained across a long career and a prodigious poetic output, justify his place among our major poets.