Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Robert Penn Warren, May 3, 1979

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:11 - Travel and isolation

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Partial Transcript: The--owing is an unrehearsed interview with Mr. Robert Penn Warren for the Robert Penn Warren Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: Warren talks of his lack of traveling in recent years due to age. The remoteness of his home is also found to be a contributing factor to his decline in traveling. An instance with a burglar is recalled as well.

Keywords: Connecticut; Lexington (Ky.); Robberies; Rural; The University of Kentucky; Writing conferences

Subjects: American literature; Travel

00:05:04 - Regarding William R. Ferris

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Partial Transcript: There's a very, uh, delightful young man he was teaching at Yale, a guy named Will Ferris.

Segment Synopsis: Warren discusses his friendship with a professor of folklore named William R. Ferris, who he met at Yale. The character and work of Ferris is explored. His professional achievements are also revealed.

Keywords: Center for Southern Folklore; Film-making; Folklorists; The University of Mississippi; Yale University

Subjects: Folklore and education; Friendship; Professors; Society

00:09:01 - Experience with teaching at universities

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Partial Transcript: I thought Yale was a very disperse place.

Segment Synopsis: Warren examines his time as a college professor at various universities across the country. He talks about his relationships with other academics. The types and levels of the courses he taught are also mentioned.

Keywords: Connections; Education; Liberal arts; Louisiana State University (LSU); Students; The University of Minnesota; Yale University

Subjects: Friendships; Professors; Society

00:13:27 - Time at Yale University

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Partial Transcript: What did you teach at Yale?

Segment Synopsis: Warren elaborates on his tenure at Yale as a professor of literature and writing to graduate students, with a few undergraduates intermingled in this group. The reasons for Warren choosing not to teach poetry are also explored.

Keywords: Fiction writing; Graduate students; Theory of fiction; Writing students

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Professors; Yale University

00:16:44 - Plays and poems

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Partial Transcript: Any plans to, uh, put it on the road?

Segment Synopsis: Warren explains how the new edited version of his play differs from the poetic addition of the work. Next, a previous negative experience with the aforementioned play is discussed. The play was a success, and eventually had a run on Broadway, with a TV production as well. The improvisation aspect of touring plays is also touched on.

Keywords: All the King's Men (Book); Broadway; Dramatic readings; Poetry; Theater

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Plays & poets; Playwriting--Drama.

00:22:48 - Past versus future work

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Partial Transcript: Well you are, also, you're working on more poems, you say, for 1980.

Segment Synopsis: Warren compares his newest work to older writings. The conclusion is reached that current work appears to be slightly more abstract than past writings. Some of Warren's inspirations for older poems are also explored, including a childhood friend who briefly played Major League Baseball.

Keywords: Abstract; Alcoholism; Books; Factual; Kent Greenfield; Literary styles; Poems; Self-immitation

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Childhood

00:33:48 - Relationship with Allen Tate

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Partial Transcript: I've been thinking about another one of your friends, uh, Tate.

Segment Synopsis: Warren describes his friendship and connection to fellow writer Allen Tate. The two corresponded and collaborated upon each other's work frequently. Tate's childhood is explored, along with his decision to convert to Catholicism once he married a Catholic woman. The religious experiences and leanings of Warren are also mentioned.

Keywords: Allen Tate; Catholicism; Nashville (Tenn.); Religion; Southern Agrarians

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Childhood; Friendship; Society

00:47:39 - Tate's personality / more on literary editing

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Partial Transcript: I have the impression--and, uh, you're the only person I've talked to about Tate...

Segment Synopsis: Warren continues on the subject of Tate by describing the man's powerful personality, and his relations with other writers. One particular relationship with fellow Southern Agrarian Donald Davidson is explored. The reviewing of each other's works is also elaborated upon.

Keywords: Allen Tate; Donald Davidson; The Southern Agrarians

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

00:57:42 - Tate and Warren at the University of Minnesota

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Partial Transcript: Did he come to Minnesota after you?

Segment Synopsis: Warren relays the experiences of Allen Tate as a professor at the University of Minnesota, following Warren's own tenure at the school. Tate's social relationships with other faculty is mentioned. Warren also talks of his friendship with Joseph Warren Beach, a well-respected professor and figure at the university. Notable writers and former Minnesota professors whom Warren encountered are also discussed.

Keywords: Allen Tate; James Bentley; Joseph Warren Beach; Saul Bellow; The University of Minnesota

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Minnesota; Professors

01:05:37 - More on Tate

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Partial Transcript: I was, um--in looking at some of the past interviews--still on Tate, um, I was looking at some of the things you'd said...

Segment Synopsis: Warren delves into more detail upon his friendship with Allen Tate. Tate's personality, and his rift and later reconciliation with John Donald Wade is also mentioned. The two are also compared on their abilities as professors. Lastly, the influence of Tate in the literary circles of Nashville and during his tenure in Minnesota is considered.

Keywords: Combative; John Donald Wade; Kind; Passionate; The Southern Agrarians

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

01:14:13 - Language skills

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Partial Transcript: That's where your father had studied his Greek.

Segment Synopsis: Warren finishes by revealing his language skills in Greek, which he developed from his father. His wife's translation skills in Spanish and Italian are also explored, as well as his daughter's pursuit of learning ancient Greek.

Keywords: Ancient Greek; Family; Greek; Italian; Spanish; Translators

Subjects: Families; Language