Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Isabella Gardner, January 8, 1981

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

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Partial Transcript: The following is an unrehearsed interview with Isabella Gardner for the Robert Penn Warren Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: Gardner describes her first encounters with Warren. Their acquaintance is found to originate from her ex-husband, Allen Tate. A physical description of Warren is given, as well as multiple social interactions between the friends. Gardner's affinity for Warren's latest poetry is expressed. The memorial of Tate is recalled, along with Warren's role in the service.

Keywords: Allen Tate; Eleanor Clark; Fairfield (Conn.); Memorials; National Book Awards; Ode to the Confederate Dead (Poem); Robert Penn Warren; Socializing; The Guggenheim Museum

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

00:04:55 - Warren and Allen Tate

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Partial Transcript: And I remember Allen telling me--(coughs)--that when he and Red were at Vanderbilt together they were both--Red's younger than Allen--

Segment Synopsis: Gardner gives her perspective on the friendship between Allen Tate (her former husband) and Warren through the years. The literary habits of the two writers are recalled. The intellect of the friends is also mentioned. Tate's admiration for Southern writers is emphasized. The past written correspondences between the contemporaries are discussed.

Keywords: Allen Tate; John Crowe Ransom; Robert Penn Warren; Southerners; T. S. Eliot; The Waste Land (Poem); Vanderbilt University; Works; Writing

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

00:13:18 - Warren's first wife / literary exchanges

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Partial Transcript: Was Tate very well acquainted with, uh, Warren's first wife, Emma Brescia?

Segment Synopsis: Gardner reveals her knowledge of Warren's first wife. Gardner also tells of Warren's feedback on the literature that she had sent to him on several occasions. These correspondences are revealed to be archived at a university in Saint Louis.

Keywords: Allen Tate; Emma Brescia; Letters; Manuscripts; Papers; Robert Penn Warren; Washington University in Saint Louis

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

00:16:41 - Southerners

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Partial Transcript: You've been ta--you mentioned a few minutes ago, uh, uh, well, you said Tate's dislike of Yankees.

Segment Synopsis: The differing backgrounds of Warren and his wife are briefly mentioned. Gardner's experience of living in the South (with her Southern-born husband) is recalled, with instances of the civil rights movement emphasized. Warren's views on segregation are analyzed by Gardner as well. The racism of Allen Tate is revealed with several instances witnessed by Gardner. Possible reasons for Tate's move from the South to New York are explored.

Keywords: Alabama; Allen Tate; Antisemitism; Eleanor Clark; I'll Take My Stand (Book); New York (N.Y.); Racism; Robert Penn Warren; Segregation; The South

Subjects: African Americans--Segregation; American literature--20th century; Civil rights movements--Southern States; Friendship; Poetry; Race relations; Racism

00:21:18 - Caroline Gordon

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Partial Transcript: How did he end up--why, why did he come to New York?

Segment Synopsis: Gardner elaborates upon her lack of interaction with Tate's other ex-wife, Caroline Gordon. Gardner's relationship with her step-children (through Gordon) is described. Gardner's desire to meet Caroline Gordon in person is also mentioned. The racism of Gordon is talked about. Gordon's recent life in Mexico with her children and grandchildren is explored. The interviewer recalls the story of how Tate met Gordon while visiting Warren on vacation from university. Why Gordon and her family recently moved to Mexico (according to Gardner) is discussed. The personal lives of Gordon's children and grandchildren are recounted.

Keywords: Allen Tate; Caroline Gordon; Children; Family; Gardening; Grandchildren; Guthrie (Ky.); Mexico; Princeton University; Racism; Robert Penn Warren; Step-children; Translating; Vanderbilt University; Vermont; Wives

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

00:30:17 - Tate and Warren's letters / Tate's biography

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Partial Transcript: So, I found out from Alfred Bush, you know, the librarian at Princeton--

Segment Synopsis: Gardner tells the interviewer about the collection of letters between Warren and Tate located at Princeton University. The progress of a biographer's writing on Tate is described, as well as his use of the Princeton collection. The selling of letters (by Gardner) written between Tate and Gardner to Washington University in St. Louis is discussed. The future travel plans of the biographer according to Gardner are also mentioned.

Keywords: Alfred L. Bush; Allen Tate; Biographers; Children; Grandchildren; Leeds (England); Leeds (U.K.); Letters; Librarians; Oxford (England); Oxford (U.K.); Princeton University; Robert Penn Warren; St. Louis (Mo.); Washington University in St. Louis

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Friendship; Research; Travel