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Vol. I: The Apprentice Years, 1924-1934

by Robert Penn Warren & edited by William Bedford Clark

Pub Date: May 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-8071-2536-9
Publisher: Louisiana State Univ.

Ten years of essentially unrevealing letters from a formative period of the poet and novelist best known for All the King’s Men and as the first Poet Laureate of the United States.

This first in a series of volumes of Warren’s letters planned by editor Clark (English/Texas A&M) covers Warren’s college years, including undergraduate terms at Vanderbilt University and graduate studies at Berkeley, Yale, and Oxford (the last as a Rhodes scholar). The events in that period include an early suicide attempt, an abortive love affair (with a woman code-named “Albatross”), a collegiate scandal involving allegations that women were seen leaving his lodgings early in the morning, amused disdain for the politics and petty conflicts of the college community, and a commitment to poetry that was remarkable even in the midst of the burgeoning Southern literary renaissance (which would include many of the recipients of these letters). Chief among Warren’s correspondents was poet and critic Allen Tate, to whom Warren confided both personal and literary concerns, mailing carbon copies of his poems for Tate to criticize, and in turn commenting on Tate’s work. That pattern prevails with most of his letters to peers, as his correspondence expands to include critics, publishers, editors and other academics. The self-conscious collegiate cynicism fades away fairly quickly, making way for literate, sometimes charming (if often perfunctory) comments on his own and others’ work and lives. Only one letter to his wife Cinima Brescia, notable for its feeling, is included (few are extant); numerous letters to editors (often requesting money) round out the last chapter. The explanatory notes do not adequately fill in the gaps always left when only one side of a correspondence is presented.

Useful for scholars and for admirers of Warren’s work who are very familiar with the author’s life and career. (b&w photos, not seen)