Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Cleanth Brooks, May 10, 1978

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:37 - Meeting Robert Penn Warren

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Partial Transcript: Mr. Brooks, I'd like to talk this afternoon for a little while about, uh, your long and extremely productive relationship with Robert Penn Warren.

Segment Synopsis: Brooks describes his first encounters with Warren through a mutual friend while the two were undergraduates at Vanderbilt University. The personal background of Brooks' roommate is also explored, as well as his connection to Warren. It is revealed that Warren read some of the interviewee's undergraduate papers at Vanderbilt.

Keywords: Andrew Lytle; Colonels; Conversations; Idealism; Papers; Robert Penn Warren; Roommates; Socialism; The Fugitives (writers); The Marines; University of California, Berkeley; Vanderbilt University; Yale University

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

00:05:34 - Brooks and Warren at Oxford

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Partial Transcript: And so, when I, in 1929 arrived in Oxford, uh, Red was already there...

Segment Synopsis: Brooks recalls his time spent at Oxford University, including a year when Warren also attended. Warren's published poetry up to that point in time is described. Visits to the home of Warren in the city of Oxford are remembered. The friends of Brooks and Warren and their respective nationalities are documented. In addition, the acquaintances' various backgrounds are explored. Warren's scorn for literary intellectuals within Oxford is examined. Brooks also discusses notable British literary movements of the time. Lastly, Brooks explains how he reconnected with Warren at Vanderbilt.

Keywords: Bloomsbury Group; Classes; Elizabethan poetry; Exeter College; Gatherings; Geologists; Intellectuals; Mutual friends; Oxford University; Princeton University; Publications; Rhodes Scholarships; Robert Penn Warren; School; Socialization; T. S. Eliot; Tulane University; Vanderbilt University

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

00:15:35 - Beginnings at Louisiana State University

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Partial Transcript: I went on to Oxford.

Segment Synopsis: Brooks chronicles his early days at LSU following his time spent abroad at Oxford. The connections that Brooks made through Oxford assisted the scholar in obtaining a position at LSU. Warren's hiring at LSU is also detailed. The origins of the Southern Review are examined. It is found that it began as a joint venture with SMU. Finally, Brooks discusses the quarterly and the dynamics between the staff when it became independently published by LSU.

Keywords: Chairmen; Charles W. Pipkin; Editors; English departments; Faculty; Lectures; Louisiana State University (LSU); Oxford University; Quarterlies; Rhodes Scholarships; Robert Penn Warren; Southern Methodist University; Southwest Review; The Southern Review; Topics

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

00:28:25 - Southern Review dynamics

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Partial Transcript: Uh, is there anything noteworthy that's not in print?

Segment Synopsis: Brooks explores the working relationships between his colleagues. An instance of a printing error on the first issue of the magazine is given. Albert Erskine's role in the publication, revision, and editing process for the quarterly is emphasized. The commonalities between the staff are highlighted as well.

Keywords: Albert Russel Erskine; Editors; Errors; Louisiana State University (LSU); Misprints; Publications; Quarterlies; Random House; Robert Penn Warren; The Southern Review

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

00:30:26 - Warren and Brooks as co-workers

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Partial Transcript: Would you, uh--did, did you and Warren have pretty much the same view on these things?

Segment Synopsis: Brooks elaborates upon his professional relationship with Warren. It is found that Warren and Brooks had similar viewpoints and, as a result, they argued very little during the editing process. Brooks gives the possible reasons for the lack of disagreement between himself and Warren. An instance with Kenneth Burke is given as an example of the harmony between the colleagues. The roles Brooks and Warren retained within the magazine are described. Additionally, Brooks reveals what Ransom thought of his frequent collaboration with Warren.

Keywords: Academics; Conferences; Connections; Contributors; Editors; Harmony; History; Insights; Issues; John Crowe Ransom; Kenneth Burke; Louisiana State University (LSU); Manuscripts; Principles; Publications; Quarterlies; Robert Penn Warren; The Southern Review

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

00:41:07 - Brooks on collaboration

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Partial Transcript: What makes a good collaborator, do you think?

Segment Synopsis: Brooks discusses his literary collaborations, with an emphasis upon his frequent partnership with Warren. Differences in personality within each collaboration are explored. Speculation is given into what made partnering with Warren extremely successful and productive.

Keywords: An Approach to Literature (Book); Collaborators; Congeniality; Differences; Editing; Personality; Positives; Qualities; Robert Heilman; Robert Penn Warren; The Southern Review; Understanding Poetry (Book)

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Friendship

00:43:12 - End of the Southern Review

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Partial Transcript: Well, to go on with the Warren story a little further--

Segment Synopsis: Brooks recalls the termination of the Southern Review, and the supposed reasons for this. Attempts to save the magazine are examined. The specific groups that supported Southern Review are also mentioned. LSU's faculty at the time is compared to that of the present (during the 1970s). As a result of the magazine folding, Warren departed from the university. Brooks' working life following Warren's exit from LSU is explored as well.

Keywords: English departments; Faculty; Louisiana State University (LSU); Newspapers; Quarterlies; Robert Penn Warren; Students; Support; The Southern Review; Vanderbilt University; WWII; World War II

Subjects: Administration; American literature--20th century; Education; Friendship; World War, 1939-1945

00:48:29 - Writing textbooks

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Partial Transcript: Oh, by the way, had you and, uh, Warren collaborated on a book by this time?

Segment Synopsis: Brooks recounts how the first textbook he co-wrote with Warren came about. It is discovered that it originated from notes that Warren photocopied and gave to his classes. The first textbook was published by the university press, but later mass-produced through a private, large-scale publishing company. Reception of the book from faculty is given as well. The writing and publication of the well-known textbook "Understanding Poetry" is also examined. Lastly, Brooks and Warren's academic workload during that time period is outlined.

Keywords: An Approach to Literature (Book); Appleton-Century-Crofts; Guides; Henry Holt and Company; Louisiana State University (LSU); Louisiana State University Press; Materials; Publications; Robert Penn Warren; Southern Review; Understanding Poetry (Book)

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

00:54:03 - Brooks and Warren at Yale / education

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Partial Transcript: Uh, anyway in 1947 I did get some invitations, uh, to go elsewhere and decided to come to Yale.

Segment Synopsis: Brooks relays his and Warren's time at Yale University. The courses that Warren taught are also mentioned. The reasons as to why Warren initially became a professor of drama (as opposed to English) are speculated. Additionally, Brooks lists the shared educational institutions that the friends attended.

Keywords: Brother to Dragons (Book); English departments; Louisiana State University (LSU); Oxford University; Robert Penn Warren; Sabbaticals; School of Drama; Vanderbilt University; Yale University

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

00:57:22 - Continued partnership / Warren's nature

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Partial Transcript: You were still collaborating on books while he was at Minnesota.

Segment Synopsis: Brooks reveals the continued collaboration between himself and Warren following the author's departure from LSU (Warren then went to Minnesota). It is noted that the two proceeded to write and edit textbooks despite the geographical separation. Brooks describes the sociable nature of Warren. His meeting of Thomas Wolfe is given as an example. This trait of Warren is thought to have assisted him in obtaining writing material. Warren's energetic nature and temperament are also mentioned. An analogy of Shakespeare in relation to Warren is provided. Warren's affinity for Italy and sense of humor are specified as well. Brooks illustrates the finer aspects of Warren's demeanor and personality.

Keywords: Albert Erskine; Brutus; Conversations; Energetic; High spirited; Honest; Humorous; Italy; Kind; Louisiana State University (LSU); Robert Penn Warren; Sense of proportion; Temper; The University of Minnesota; Thomas Wolfe; William Shakespeare; Yale University

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