Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Robert Heilman, August 4, 1978

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:16 - Early days at Louisiana State University

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Partial Transcript: The following is an unrehearsed interview with Dr. Robert Heilman for the Robert Penn Warren Oral History Project of the University of Kentucky Library.

Segment Synopsis: Heilman recalls his first position at LSU where he met Warren in the mid-1930s. Next, Heilman gives a firsthand account of the assassination of Huey Long (a U.S. Senator at the time of his death). The mourning period in Louisiana following the death of Long is also described. Heilman's professional life at the university is mentioned as well.

Keywords: Assassinations; Baton Rogue (La.); Funerals; Grieving; Harvard University; Huey Long; Louisiana State University (LSU); Robert Penn Warren; Russell B. Long; Senators

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Education; Friendship; Life; Professor

00:07:11 - Cleanth Brooks, Robert Penn Warren, and the Southern Review

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Partial Transcript: Uh, my first recollection of things having to do with Brooks and Warren was that the first issue of the Southern Review was coming out sometime in the fall.

Segment Synopsis: The publication of the Southern Review's first issue is examined. Heilman's early impressions of Brooks and Warren through graduate students' accounts are also mentioned. Brooks and Warren's shared literary philosophy is explored. The editors of the Southern Review are recalled. The reactions of colleagues to Brooks and Warren's ideals are given.

Keywords: Charles Pipkin; Cleanth Brooks; Editors; English departments; Formal; Graduate students; Literary analysis; Literary criticism; Louisiana State University (LSU); Robert Penn Warren; The Southern Review; Understanding poetry; Unusual

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Education; Friendship; Professors

00:15:35 - Warren's contemporaries

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Partial Transcript: They were probably pretty much contemporary with Warren and Brooks, weren't they?

Segment Synopsis: Heilman describes Warren's colleagues at LSU and their reactions to the author's philosophies. The professional careers of these professors are explored. The professors are also found to be the same age as Warren, yet critical of his increasingly innovative techniques. Lastly, Heilman elaborates upon the dynamics between Warren, his colleagues, and the graduate students, along with Heilman's own appreciation for the academic style of Brooks and Warren.

Keywords: Academics; Admiration; Cleanth Brooks; Graduate students; Literary criticism; Louisiana State University (LSU); Professors; Robert Penn Warren; Sympathetic; The Southern Review; The University of Texas

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Education; Friendship; Professors

00:20:24 - Collaborations / dynamics of LSU

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Partial Transcript: And then you later became a co-author with them.

Segment Synopsis: Heilman's co-authoring of a textbook with Cleanth Brooks is discussed. Warren and Brooks' roles within the administration of LSU are examined. An instance of the colleagues' concerns for the PhD requirements are given. The desired skills for a PhD candidate, according to Brooks and Warren, are also mentioned. The influence of an Oxford education upon Brooks and Warren in this regard is emphasized. A former chairman of the LSU English Department is described, as well as the subsequent hiring process for a suitable replacement.

Keywords: Administrations; Chairmen; Cleanth Brooks; Committees; Literary criticism; Literary history; Louisiana State University (LSU); Oxford University; PhDs; Politics; Publications; Retirement; Robert Penn Warren; Understanding drama

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Education; Friendship; Professors

00:28:46 - Warren's personality and writing

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Partial Transcript: Uh, I try to remember my first impression of Red's personality...

Segment Synopsis: Heilman remembers Warren's personality during his LSU years. Warren is also compared with friend and contemporary John Crowe Ransom. Warren's personality is contrasted with the messages conveyed in his literature. Heilman finds that the author's personality does not completely permeate his literature very often. This notion is explored within the context of other writers in general. Additionally, Heilman expresses his opinion on Warren not yet receiving a Nobel Prize in the literature category.

Keywords: "Hard Bitten"; Amiable; Considerate; Focused; Human nature; John Crowe Ransom; Literary criticism; Louisiana State University (LSU); Nobel Prize in Literature; Perception; Personalities; Robert Penn Warren; Saul Bellow; Scope; Serious; Skeptical; Versatility

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Friendship

00:35:24 - Warren's first wife Emma Brescia

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Partial Transcript: Uh, well there's one very difficult thing here and that's Cinina.

Segment Synopsis: Heilman recounts his experiences with Warren's first wife, Emma "Cinina" Brescia. A secondhand account of how Warren met Brescia is also told. Brescia's father and his background are briefly mentioned. Heilman describes an instance of Brescia's eccentric behavior. A story of Brescia told by the wife of Cleanth Brooks to Heilman is relayed. A potential disagreement between Warren and Allen over his wife is chronicled. Warren's treatment of his former wife is discussed.

Keywords: Allen Tate; California; Charades; Cleanth Brooks; Coarse; Emma "Cinina" Brescia; Emma Brescia; Louisiana State University (LSU); Musicians; Outlandish; Parties; Robert Penn Warren; Socialization; Tolerance; University of California, Berkeley; Wives; Yale University

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Friendship; Life

00:44:04 - Perceptions of Warren at LSU

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Partial Transcript: Uh, I've already spoken of the great enthusiasm of graduate students for the, uh, Red and Cleanth instruction.

Segment Synopsis: Heilman relays the opinions of both students and professors on Brooks and Warren. The great admiration for the two is emphasized. An instance of Warren's gradual popularity among the students from the beginning of his professorial career is also mentioned.

Keywords: Classes; Cleanth Brooks; Graduate students; Robert Penn Warren; Sections; Teaching; William Shakespeare

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Education; Friendship; Professors

00:47:02 - Anecdotes about Warren / Warren's associates

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Partial Transcript: Oh there are a lot of little anecdotal things, you know.

Segment Synopsis: Stories of Warren are told, including an instance of swimming in the river at a friend's house. Certain supposed friends of Warren were later found to be insincere, only interested in monetary gains. For example, one man co-wrote a textbook with Warren and Brooks, and continues to receive a share of the profits from this endeavor, but no longer has contact with them. The attitudes of Warren and Brooks on undesired or troubled students (according to Heilman) are explored.

Keywords: Aquatics; Baton Rogue (La.); Books; Cleanth Brooks; Friends; Insight; Kindness; Malice; Publishing; Robert Penn Warren; Sailing; Stealing; Swimming; Sympathetic; Water

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Education; Friendship; Life

00:51:14 - Brooks and Warren

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Partial Transcript: This calls to mind a couple of questions I have.

Segment Synopsis: Heilman talks of the closeness between Warren and Brooks. The small quarrels among the associates are explored. Their shared background of Southern origin is emphasized. The educational institutions that Warren and Brooks jointly attended are also mentioned, as well as the potential influence of Brooks (who worked there at the time) in Warren's hiring at LSU. The mutual literary strengths of the friends are examined. Warren and Brooks' perception of the North is described, as well as the proclaimed bias of New York as a literary and publishing center.

Keywords: Charles Pipkin; Cleanth Brooks; Critics; Editors; Fugitives (writers); Louisiana State University (LSU); Northerners; Oxford University; Poets; Policies; Regions; Robert Penn Warren; Southerners; Vanderbilt University

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Education; Friendship; Life; Professors

00:59:24 - Brooks and Warren's personalities

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Partial Transcript: But, I think in institutional affairs, and it might be in editing or it might be in the university...

Segment Synopsis: The personalities of Brooks and Warren are compared. It is found that Brooks tended to play a more dominant role in the handling of administrators and those in power. Several analogies of Brooks as a powerful force are given in contrast to Warren's more casual demeanor in that regard. Heilman emphasizes the importance of perceiving the friends both together and individually in order to properly admire their writing.

Keywords: Cleanth Brooks; Commonalities; Complexities; Differences; Inferences; Louisiana State University (LSU); Objectives; Outgoing; Polite; Politics; Power; Quiet; Robert Penn Warren; The Possibilities of Order

Subjects: Administration; American literature--20th century; Education; Friendship; Life

01:04:56 - Work compared / religion

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Partial Transcript: Something else--

Segment Synopsis: The writing of both Warren and Brooks is analyzed. Warren's exploration of African Americans as a subject is compared with the technical and professorial nature of Brooks' compositions. The religious beliefs and tendencies of the friends are discussed. Brooks is also found to have a religious similarity with the interviewee. Warren is revealed to be Christian, but has no institutional affiliation with a particular church. An esteemed former professor of philosophy and religion is also mentioned, as well as his brief acquaintance with Warren.

Keywords: African Americans; Anti-fascism; Christianity; Cleanth Brooks; Criticism; Ecclesiastical; Editing; Episcopalians; Institutions; Language; Louisiana State University (LSU); Methodists; Morals; Parents; Political philosophers; Political scientists; Robert Penn Warren; Values

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Friendship; Life; Professors; Religion

01:13:27 - Social scene at LSU

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Partial Transcript: There was a second thing too I was thinking about.

Segment Synopsis: Heilman characterizes the social atmosphere that Warren maintained outside of the workplace. The people that frequented the Warrens' parties are described, as well as the diverse nature of the guests (within the university). Artists who attended the gatherings and their personal lives are recounted as well. Warren's integration of African Americans at the parties is also explored.

Keywords: Artists; Cleanth Brooks; Controversial; Couples; Integration; Intellectuals; Louisiana State University (LSU); Mobile (Ala.); Parties; Robert Penn Warren; Socialization; Trotskyists; Yale University

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Friendship; Life

01:20:56 - Heilman on the South

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Partial Transcript: And now another thing which I think is important there...

Segment Synopsis: Heilman chronicles the relative acceptance of Northerners by Southerners while living in Baton Rouge. An instance of a manifesto that mistakenly divided the two groups briefly is explored. Heilman also discusses the circumstances that led to the demise of the Southern Review. Factors include the outset of WWII and a change in state government officials.

Keywords: Charles Pipkin; Cleanth Brooks; Graduate students; Louisiana State University (LSU); Manifestos; Origins; Reforms; Robert Penn Warren; Signers; Southerners; State government; The Southern Review; World War II; Yankees

Subjects: Administration; American literature--20th century; Friendship; History; Travel

01:25:49 - Departures and changes to LSU

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Partial Transcript: Did the aura continue after this? Since you were there for another five or six years.

Segment Synopsis: Heilman explores the notion that the LSU English Department declined following Warren's departure, coupled with the folding of the Southern Review. Heilman also talks of teaching Army recruits on the LSU campus. World War II and its absorption of Heilman is thought to be a limitation in observing the changes to LSU accurately (as more pressing matters were occupying his mind). Heilman expresses his gratitude for working with Warren and Brooks at LSU. Heilman's social interactions with Brooks and Warren after the LSU days are explored.

Keywords: Cleanth Brooks; Correspondences; Decline; Distractions; Letters; Losses; Louisiana State University (LSU); Robert Penn Warren; Socialization; Soldiers; The Southern Review; Visits; World War II

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Education; Friendship; Life; Professors