The Legacy of Robert Penn Warren

RPWDavMadLegacyRPW.jpg (12352 bytes)THE LEGACY OF


Edited by David Madden

With an Introduction by James H. Justus

Copyright 2000 Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge


Robert Penn Warren was unique among twentieth-century American writers for having achieved excellence in a broad and assorted range of genres: poems, novels, plays, critical works, historical essays, personal essays, biography, and innovative textbooks. In this collection of essays, critics and poets–among the finest Warren scholars–assess Warren's legacy within his various genres and illuminate his centrality to twentieth-century American culture.

The diversity of approaches in this collection mirrors the rich variety of Warren's career.  James H. Justus, author of one of the first book-length studies of Warren's life and work, provides an introduction in which he regards Warren as a mentor for writers and readers in prose and in poetry.  Critic R. W. B. Lewis and historian C. Vann Woodward-longtime friends of Warren-provide insights on the influence that Warren's experiences in Louisiana, New England, Italy, and other locales had upon his work.  T. R. Hummer considers the value of placing Warren as a "southern" poet, and fellow poet-scholar John Burt examines Warren as a poet of New England.

Ernest Suarez discusses Warren's influence on younger southern poets, focusing particularly on Louisiana's Dave Smith. Smith in turn contributes an insightful essay discussing Warren's use of the historical figure J. J. Audubon as a vehicle for exploring his own imaginative life in the long poem Audubon: A Vision. Lewis P. Simpson brings his many years of experience as a literary historian to bear on his discussion of Thomas Jefferson's influence on Warren's thought as exemplified in Warren's treatment of Jefferson as a historical character in Brother to Dragons.  James A. Grimshaw, Jr., shows us Warren the moral philosopher, preoccupied with hope, love, and endurance. Novelist and critic Lucy Ferriss and critic Deborah Wilson explore Warren's significance to feminist critics, and Victor Strandberg provides the collection's closing essay, an examination of the vital place of Warren's legacy in American literature on the cusp of a new millennium.

Although Warren was best known for his novel All the King's Men, the fact that most of these essays focus on his poetry attests to the urgency these poets and scholars feel about the need to call attention to this relatively neglected aspect of his work. Although their approaches and themes are varied, the pieces in The Legacy of Robert Penn Warren are united in their assertion that the writer's true legacy is that he was, in a century of increasing specialization, a myriad-minded Renaissance man.


David Madden is Donald and Velvia Crumbley Professor of Creative Writing at Louisiana State University.  The author of Sharpshooter: A Novel of the Civil War, seven other novels, and two short-story collections, he also a poet, playwright, literary critic, and textbook editor.  For more information on David Madden click on the link immediately above.