Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Robert Penn Warren, March 7, 1980

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:02 - Upcoming book / friendship with John Crowe Ransom

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Partial Transcript: I thought we might talk a little today about, uh, your new book, "Life is a Fable."

Segment Synopsis: Warren begins discussing his newest book that contains new poetry, and differs slightly from his previous work intentionally. This comes from the fear of his writings being too similar (Robert Frost has been accused of this as well). John Crowe Ransom, a fellow writer, who also used this technique is discussed, including his writing style and personal life.

Keywords: John Crowe Ransom; Kenyon College; Poetry; Robert Frost; Socializing

Subjects: Family & parenthood; Friendship; Society; Twentieth-century literature

00:05:33 - New writing style

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Partial Transcript: And then I began to rearrange the poems I had, in sequence.

Segment Synopsis: Warren details the evolution of his newest poetry. The work is based upon his life experiences, but with fictionalized elements contained within. This change in style reflects Warren's aspiration to remain dynamic in the modern literary scene.

Keywords: Chronological order; Poetic structure; Realistic; Rhythm; Tone

Subjects: American literature--20th century; American poetry; Fiction; Poetry

00:12:19 - Interactions with The New Yorker

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Partial Transcript: Well then, did the Jeff Davis piece in New Yorker, uh, originate this way or was there also a, a request from an outside--

Segment Synopsis: Warren talks of his experiences with the editors of The New Yorker. The amount of creative freedom Warren had is discussed, as well as how much direct editing the magazine decided to use on the submitted poems. The level of research by the magazine into the historical context of the various poems is also mentioned.

Keywords: Editors; Jefferson Davis; Magazines; Manhattan (N.Y.); Poetry; The New Yorker

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Poetry

00:19:44 - Opinion on autobiographies

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Partial Transcript: You, uh--these pieces you've just been describing "Life is a Fable" and, uh, the Jeff Davis piece in New Yorker...

Segment Synopsis: Warren acknowledges that his recent work has become more focused on events from his personal life. Despite this, he affirms a disinterest in writing an autobiography.

Keywords: Autobiography; Chronological order; Grandfathers; Parents

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Family & parenthood

00:21:02 - Current poetic inspirations

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Partial Transcript: What have you been reading while you were writing it? What poets?

Segment Synopsis: Warren discusses which poets and writers shaped his newly published book. Many critically esteemed authors are mentioned, including many from past generations, as well as those from present times.

Keywords: Influences; John Keats; Mark Strand; Samuel Taylor Coleridge; Thomas Hardy; William Blake; William Wordsworth

Subjects: American authors; British writers and their work

00:26:59 - Revising and editing process

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Partial Transcript: You've mentioned that, uh, in the past you've shown poems to Bloom.

Segment Synopsis: Warren reveals his methods for polishing his new book. He received advice and criticism from multiple celebrities, and made several changes accordingly.

Keywords: Harold Bloom; James L. Brooks; John Hollander; Manuscripts; William Morris Meredith

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Critics--Books and reading; Directors

00:28:30 - Influence of Thomas Cranmer on Warren's new book

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Partial Transcript: What got you thinking about Cranmer?

Segment Synopsis: Warren elaborates on the use of Cranmer in one of his poems. Cranmer served as an influence upon Warren's stylistic tendencies. The leverage of Cranmer changed the entirety of the poem, demonstrating the significance of his writings today.

Keywords: Illustrations; Inspirations; Thomas Cranmer; Writing

Subjects: British writers and their work; Britons in literature

00:30:42 - Use of past work

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Partial Transcript: I, I had came across--I was looking back at the old stack...

Segment Synopsis: Warren comments on the use of revisiting previous writing in order to combat writer's block. This collection of former compositions is the preferred method to aid the creative process for Warren. A specific example of this technique is also given.

Keywords: Inspirations; Motivations; Old material; Scrap folders

Subjects: American Literature--20th century; Poetry

00:31:50 - Title of book

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Partial Transcript: I think it is a different kind of, uh, book.

Segment Synopsis: Warren explains the reasoning behind his upcoming book's title. He also expresses his doubts on the title, and leaves the possibility of changing it before publication.

Keywords: Fiction; Life is a Fable (Book); Narratives; Prosaic; Titles

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Book analysis

00:35:26 - Concerning Eudora Welty

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Partial Transcript: But, now you ask about Eudora--

Segment Synopsis: Warren reveals his friendship and experience with fellow writer Eudora Welty. How they met, his admiration for her work, and their recent interactions are documented.

Keywords: Accents; Albert Russel; Erskine; Eudora Welty; Southern women; The South

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Friendship; Society; Women authors--American--Biography