Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with James Dickey, May 13, 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 Dr. James Dickey for the Robert Penn Warren Oral History Project.

Segment Synopsis: Dickey recalls when his acquaintance with Warren began. It is found that Dickey and Warren had several mutual friends between them. The two met in person through the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Dickey and Warren also kept up a correspondence, frequently exchanging their work. The closeness between them is emphasized, including an instance at the funeral of Dickey's mother. Lastly, visits to Dickey by Warren in South Carolina are described, including the literary conversations the friends engaged in.

Keywords: Allen Tate; American Academy of Arts and Letters; Andrew Lytle; Distance; Donald Davidson; Eulogies; Herman Melville; Pawleys Island (S.C.); Randall Jarrell; Robert Penn Warren; Socializing; Time; Vanderbilt University

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

00:06:48 - Dickey's dedications to Warren / Warren's evolution as a writer

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Partial Transcript: You've dedicated at least two poems, uh, "Mexican Valley" and more recently...

Segment Synopsis: Dickey tells of the poems and novels that he dedicated to Warren throughout the years. Warren also returned the favor to Dickey several times as well. Dickey also examines the changes to Warren's writing in recent years. He states that Warren's lengthier pieces tend to have a higher quality. Lastly, Dickey characterizes the nature of Warren's literature and its extreme tendencies (according to the interviewee).

Keywords: Brother to Dragons (Book); Crimes; Dedications; Dramatic Lyrics (Book); Extreme; Philosophy; Prose; Rattlesnake Country (Poem); The Ballad of Billie Pots (Poem); The Eye-beaters, Blood, Victory, Madness, Buckhead, and Mercy (Poem); Uninhibited

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

00:10:53 - Comparisons between Warren and other writers

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Partial Transcript: Do you see, uh, Robert Penn Warren's work as essentially narrating a tragic mode of experience?

Segment Synopsis: Dickey compares the themes within his own literature to Warren's. Dickey also explains his own inspirations for these specific motifs. Next, Dickey gives his opinions on the creator of the universe. The notion of a higher presence in both of the authors' works is explored. Warren's tendencies in this regard are discovered to reflect those of American writer Herman Melville. Warren's aforementioned concepts are also found to permeate all of his writing.

Keywords: Christianity; Death; Disease; God; Gods; Herman Melville; Joy; Laws; Malevolence; Neutral; Phenomenons; Religion; Robert Penn Warren; Sensibilities; Spirits; The Pope; The Universe; Theology; Tragedies; Verse poetry; William Shakespeare

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

00:17:33 - Warren and the South

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Partial Transcript: Ah, would you say something about Mr. Warren as a Southern writer in that context?

Segment Synopsis: Warren's answering of "the race question" is explored. The author's response to this idea is compared to the opinions of his Southern contemporaries. Dickey also analyzes the effects of both the Civil War and industrialization on the South. Warren's physical appearance is said to be very Southern as well. Additionally, Dickey speculates upon what would have happened if the South won the Civil War. Dickey then describes a personal connection he has to the war.

Keywords: Agriculture; Analogies; Andrew Lytle; Donald Davidson; Farming; Fugitives; History; Jefferson Davis; Julien Green; Robert Penn Warren; Southerners; Symposiums; The Civil War; The South; The Southern Agrarians; Wendell Berry; Yankees

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Friendship; Industrialization; Poetry; Race relations; Racism; United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865.

00:25:19 - Warren's themes

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Partial Transcript: Do you think this all has anything to do with the idea in Warren's writing of lost innocence?

Segment Synopsis: Dickey examines the underlying themes in Warren's writing. It is found that three common themes are present within all of the author's work. An analysis and synopsis of "All the King's Men" is given as an example of these recurring motifs. Dickey also gives an analysis on Warren's novel "World Enough and Time." Warren's emphasis on obsessions in his literature is also elaborated upon.

Keywords: All the King's Men (Book); Betrayal; Characters; Chivalry; Connections; History; Honor; Idealism; Ingenuity; Innocence; Jealousy; Motifs; Narratives; Obsessions; Passion; Robert Penn Warren; Synopses; Time; Universal evil; World Enough and Time (Book)

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

00:31:57 - The essence of Warren / sources of material

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Partial Transcript: You've called Mr. Warren, uh, innately serious and yet such an ingenious twist seems to postulate, uh, a very profound sense of humor also.

Segment Synopsis: Warren as a person is compared to the literature that he writes and the philosophies present within them. The different interpretations of Dickey's novel, "Deliverance" are examined. Dickey also describes the characters in the novel as well. A common literary subject matter between Warren and famous poet Edgar Allen Poe is also discussed. A few of Warren's sources for writing material are explored.

Keywords: Character development; Concealment; Courthouses; Deliverance; Drama; Edgar Allen Poe; Entrapment; Guthrie (Ky.); History; Humor; Imaginative; Killers; Philosophies; Records; Robert Penn Warren; Serious; Themes; Violence; World Enough and Time (Book)

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

00:37:11 - Warren as a critic / authors

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Partial Transcript: And a great--he's a good critic too.

Segment Synopsis: Dickey praises Warren's literary criticisms. Pieces on Faulkner, Shakespeare, and Roberts are emphasized. The overall quality of Warren's literary criticisms is highlighted. An instance of Tate's opinions on Warren's writing is also mentioned. The literary interests of Warren's contemporaries are explored as well. The multitude of authors born in the year 1899 are described as well.

Keywords: Active; Allen Tate; Andrew Lytle; Elizabeth Madox Roberts; Fugitives; Hart Crane; Intelligence; John Crowe Ransom; Literary criticism; Power; Robert Penn Warren; T. S. Eliot; Thomas Wolfe; William Faulkner; William Shakespeare

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

00:41:11 - Warren's poetry

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Partial Transcript: Could you just say one more thing?

Segment Synopsis: Dickey confirms that Warren personally is reflected within his poetry. Dickey expresses an appreciation for Warren's ability to use this technique. Warren is then compared to authors who were said to have failed in this regard. Notables placed in this category include Oscar Wilde and Samuel Johnson.

Keywords: Delmore Schwartz; Essences; Oscar Wilde; Quintessence; Robert Penn Warren; Samuel Johnson; Self; Souls; Talkers; Words

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