Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Robert Penn Warren, May 4, 1980

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:28 - "I'll Take My Stand" and the Southern Agrarians

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Partial Transcript: Red, I'd like to talk a little about, um, "I'll Take My Stand," this being the fiftieth anniversary of that book...

Segment Synopsis: Warren tells of his experience as a collaborator on the well-known novel "I'll Take My Stand." His opinions on what events and occurrences spurred the creation of the book are examined.

Keywords: Allen Tate; Frank Lawrence Owsley; I'll Take My Stand (Book); The Southern Agrarians; Vanderbilt University

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Economy; Environment

00:05:52 - The notion of the race question

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Partial Transcript: Why were you asked to write on the w--race question?

Segment Synopsis: Warren describes his role in the book, as he was asked to answer the race question by the Agrarians, which he often did in other works. Warren also responds to the idea that his opinions were controversial at the time, even to his fellow Southern writers. An alternative to sharecropping is also given, with an emphasis upon African American farmers.

Keywords: African Americans; Donald Davidson; Farming; Race; Rural; Sharecropping; The Southern Agrarians

Subjects: American history and culture; Literature; Race relations

00:14:26 - The Agrarian philosophy now and then

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Partial Transcript: Well while you're thinking about that, let me ask you...

Segment Synopsis: Warren discusses his Agrarian ideals, and the practicality of implementing these reforms. The growth and decline of cities and urban areas of the 1980s is also mentioned. The decline of skilled farming and the rise of industrial farming is touched on.

Keywords: Cities; Industrialization; Rural; Skilled farming; Suburbs; The Southern Agrarians; Urban

Subjects: Economy; Environment; Society

00:19:40 - Bringing ideas into practice

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Partial Transcript: Well, insofar as Agrarianism then was, or the philosophy that was embodied in this book...

Segment Synopsis: Warren delves into the concept of applying his ideals to the American people. The decline of American cities, and the possibility of returning to a majority agricultural nation is explored. Warren's opinions on the urban growth of the United States is also mentioned, along with the feasibility of returning to an increased rural intellectual class.

Keywords: Allen Tate; Anti-intellectualism; Farming; Federal government; Intellectualism; Rural; Urbanization

Subjects: Economy; Ideals (Aesthetics); Philosophy; Society

00:25:30 - Opinion on Communism

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Partial Transcript: How about the title?

Segment Synopsis: Warren gives his opinion on Communism. He also recounts his political debates with friends and colleagues. The reason for the title of the book "I'll Take My Stand" is given as well.

Keywords: Communism; Human nature; I'll Take My Stand (Book); Malcolm Cowley; Manhattan (N.Y.); Private ownership

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Communism; Politics and culture; Politics and government

00:28:51 - Settings in writing

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Partial Transcript: Were you opposed to this, uh, Southern element?

Segment Synopsis: Warren explains the Southern influence on many of his works. The vast majority of his books and novels were inspired by historical elements from the South. In contrast, his poems are revealed to be influenced by his surroundings at the time of their composition.

Keywords: Literature; Novels; Poems; Southern history

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Travel

00:31:26 - Opinion on "The Briar Patch"

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Partial Transcript: Um, do you remember writing your essay, "The Briar Patch"?

Segment Synopsis: Warren discusses the beginning of his writing about African American subjects in fiction, starting with a short story during his time at Oxford. The connections between Warren's dissertation and two other short stories, which were written at the same time, are explored. The inspirations for "The Briar Patch" are also mentioned.

Keywords: Dissertations; Nostalgia; Oxford University; The Briar Patch (Essay); William Moulton Marston

Subjects: American literature--20th century

00:36:44 - Impression of the Black Power movement and civil rights

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Partial Transcript: One thing that occurs to me is this: do you see the, uh, say certainly by the time you got to...

Segment Synopsis: Warren is asked about his views of the civil rights movement, and later the Black Power movement. Warren also talks of the relations between the middle class and lower class African Americans in the 1980s.

Keywords: Black Power Movement; Black Separatism; Civil rights; Freedom Riders; Middle classes; Ralph Ellison

Subjects: Civil rights movements--United States; Race discrimination; Race relations

00:40:12 - Initial impression of segregation

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Partial Transcript: Uh, we were talking about "Briar Patch."

Segment Synopsis: Warren tells of his opinion on segregation in the United States, in the context of when "I'll Take My Stand" was written in the early 1930s. The civil rights movement from the perspective of Warren is described as well. The treatment of Asians in California which Warren observed is also touched on.

Keywords: "Separate But equal"; California; I'll Take My Stand (Book); Minorities; Racial tensions; Segregation; The Briar Patch (Essay)

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; Civil rights movements--United States; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism

00:47:17 - Change in position on segregation / Southern muses

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Partial Transcript: Go ahead.

Segment Synopsis: Warren discusses his inspiration to write compositions on African American and mainly Southern subjects. Warren explains why he began to oppose segregation. He tells several firsthand accounts of the effects of segregation upon African Americans. The historical context of segregation and its origins are also mentioned.

Keywords: Baton Rouge (La.); Poetry; Segregation; The South; Vanderbilt University

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; American literature--20th century; Race discrimination; Race relations; Racism

01:01:56 - Possibility of the application of Agrarian principles / industrialization

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Partial Transcript: Can you say something about what you feel about Agrarian--the Agrarian principles, uh, now?

Segment Synopsis: Warren articulates his belief that his principles can be applied, but with some difficulty. Warren express his thoughts on industrialization and its effect on human nature as a whole. The necessity to return to skilled farming and self-sufficiency is elaborated upon. The notion of returning to the intellectual farmer of past decades is also touched on.

Keywords: Cities; Farming; I'll Take My Stand (Book); Isolation; Rural; Self-sufficient

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Industrialization

01:12:00 - Thoughts on other stories

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Partial Transcript: Let me ask you something more about "I'll Take My Stand" before we wrap it up.

Segment Synopsis: Warren is asked which Agrarian story he enjoyed the most. The stories of Lytle prove to be a favorite. The character and personal life of Stark Young is also brought into question.

Keywords: Andrew Nelson Lytle; I'll Take My Stand (Book); Robert Frost; Stark Young

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Friendship

01:15:42 - Popularity of "I'll Take My Stand" in the 1980s

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Partial Transcript: So, people are still reading "I'll Take My Stand" fifty years later.

Segment Synopsis: Warren shares his thoughts on the younger generation reading and applying his ideals to their lives. An encounter with a couple who attempt this lifestyle in Vermont is mentioned.

Keywords: Farming; Gardening; I'll Take My Stand (Book); New England; Rural; Vermont

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Lifestyle series