Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Robert Brustein, February 23, 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 Mr. Robert Brustein for the Robert Penn Warren Oral History Project of the University of Kentucky Library.

Segment Synopsis: Brustein talks of when he discovered Warren's writing in the 1940s. Brustein's first meeting with Warren in Massachusetts twenty years later is also explored. Warren is also revealed to have written a letter of recommendation that allowed Brustein to become a professor at Yale University.

Keywords: All The King's Men (Book); Kingman Brewster, Jr.; Letters of recommendation; Martha's Vineyard (Mass.); Robert Penn Warren; Yale University

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

00:05:15 - Warren at Yale / skill-set

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Partial Transcript: Uh, how about his interest in the drama school?

Segment Synopsis: Brustein discusses Warren's role in the Yale theatrical scene both as a professor and spectator. Warren's position as a CBS Fellow after his retirement from Yale is also examined. Some of the courses that Warren taught during this time are mentioned. Warren is revealed to prefer working as a professor of literature over his other academic fields. The versatility of Warren as a writer is also touched on.

Keywords: Adaptation; Adrian Hall; Artistic influence; Brother to Dragons; Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS); Playwrights; Robert Penn Warren; Yale Repertory Theatre; Yale School of Drama; Yale University

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

00:12:53 - Warren and wife Eleanor Clark's political views

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Partial Transcript: You've mentioned a couple of times, uh, Eleanor Clark as a, a, a full partner in the relationship.

Segment Synopsis: The criticism and feedback of Warren and his wife on Yale's plays is explored. Eleanor Clark's (Warren's wife) anti-communist ideals are explored, as well as Warren's likely political leanings according to Brustein. A description of Warren's physical appearance in relation to his personality and opinions is given as well.

Keywords: Aesthetics; Anti-communism; Conservatism; Criticism; Eleanor Clark; Politics; Robert Penn Warren; Yale University

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

00:18:09 - Warren's body of work

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Partial Transcript: How do you think, uh, Warren as a dramatist does fit in with his other, um, roles in, in literature?

Segment Synopsis: Brustein reveals his opinions on Warren's writings, and ranks them according to quality of work. Poetry is found to be his most substantial form of literature, followed by the novels, of which the older ones are of greater quality. The plays are lightly praised, but also tend to have poetic elements within them. Remakes of Warren's work are discussed, as well as former plays that were later transformed into novels.

Keywords: All the King's Men (Book); Brother to Dragons (Book); Concertos; Dramatists; Lyricism; Passions; Personas; Play-writing; Robert Penn Warren; Symphonies

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

00:23:25 - Warren as a playwright / personal life

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Partial Transcript: Did, um, uh, you have any discussion with him--did you have any knowledge about his workings with Hall...

Segment Synopsis: Brustein describes his experience with Warren as a playwright. Warren's personality is examined as well. It is revealed that Warren gives feedback on Brustein's writing, with frequent correspondence. Warren's family life is also explored, along with his relationship with Brustein's children. An anecdote about Warren's son and Brustein is also mentioned.

Keywords: Adrian Hall; All the King's Men (Book); Compassionate; Courtly; Criticism; Gabriel Penn Warren; Kindness; Revolutionist Theatre; Robert Penn Warren; Yale University

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

00:29:14 - Warren on Yale

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember any of his concerns in particular about Yale?

Segment Synopsis: Brustein relays Warren's opinions on Yale and its administration. This is compared with Warren's experiences and views on Yale when he was a student at the university. It is found that the culture of the school remained very similar through the years.

Keywords: English departments; Harold Bloom; Humanists; Playwrights; Robert Penn Warren; Structuralists; Tenured; Yale University

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

00:32:40 - Brustein and Warren currently

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Partial Transcript: What about now? What kinds of, uh, dealings do you have with him?

Segment Synopsis: Brustein's friendship with Warren at the time of the interview is described. Social gatherings between the two are mentioned as well. The personality of Warren is elaborated upon. Warren's legacy as a writer is also touched on.

Keywords: Anecdotes; Cambridge (Ma.); Christmas parties; Comic sense; Harvard University; New Haven (Conn.); Robert Penn Warren

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

00:37:07 - Others to interview

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Partial Transcript: One other thing I wanted to ask, is there any, uh--c, can you, can you suggest any, any persons that we might talk to in this way?

Segment Synopsis: Brustein is asked if he knows any more people who could be interviewed about Warren. Many of Warren's contemporaries, friends, and colleagues are mentioned as possible subjects.

Keywords: Adrian Hall; Comer Vann Woodward; John Erskine; Kingman Brewster; Peter De Vries; Robert Penn Warren

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Friendship