Warren-Brooks Award for Outstanding Literary Criticism

Brooks and Warren

Let us ask, first, why we read literature at all. Ultimately, we read it because it gives us an image of the human soul confronting its fate.

Robert Penn Warren, “The Use of the Past”


The Warren-Brooks Award was established to honor the innovative, critical interpretation of literature offered by Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989) and Cleanth Brooks (1906-1994) and to celebrate the continuation of such achievement. It is awarded for outstanding literary criticism originally published in English in the United States of America and is given in those years when a book, or other worthy publication, appears that exemplifies the Warren-Brooks effort in spirit, scope, and integrity. The recipient receives a $1,000 check and a certificate of recognition. Arrangements for the recipient include an expense paid trip to Western Kentucky University, Bowling Green, Kentucky to receive the award.

The Advisory Group to the Center for Robert Penn Warren Studies, Western Kentucky University, originated the Warren-Brooks Award in 1992 and continues to administer the jury process by which winners are selected. A successful developmental campaign paved the way for the first award presentation in 1996, and juries have met every year since to evaluate the field of eligible works.

The award was made possible by an endowment from the late Eleanor Clark Warren, the Warren Estate, and Western Kentucky University. Early each year, a three member jury from the Advisory Group reads works of literary criticism published during the preceding calendar year by scholarly and commercial presses. The winning author is notified by mid-February.

The process is closely related to the ongoing programs and activities of the Warren Center. Western Kentucky University, located in Bowling Green, Kentucky, is home to both the Warren Center and Robert Penn Warren's personal library. The Center was established in 1986, and operates under the direction of a local committee of university faculty, administrators, and community leaders.

The Center's Advisory Group consists of a nationwide network of Warren Scholars and creative thinkers who have distinguished themselves in support of Warren studies. The Advisory Group presents the Warren-Brooks Award in April, during the annual Symposium sponsored by the Warren Center on the campus of Western Kentucky University.


This award honors two native Kentuckians who distinguished themselves in teaching, in scholarship, and in literature. Robert Penn Warren, perhaps best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, All the King's Men, published in every major genre, including ten novels and seventeen volumes of poetry, and in 1984 became America's first Poet Laureate.

Cleanth Brooks's literary criticism gained him international recognition for The Well Wrought Urn, studies in the structure of poetry, and for his two-volume study of the works of William Faulkner. Both Warren and Brooks won Rhodes Scholarships during the 1920's; a decade later, while teaching at Louisiana State University, they founded the Southern Review.

Together, Warren and Brooks are credited with changing the way poetry was taught in university classrooms after the publication of their best-known textbook, Understanding Poetry, in 1938. They also wrote textbooks for the various genres of literature, including An Approach to Literature (with John Thibaut Purser), Understanding Fiction, American Literature: The Makers and the Making (with R. W. B. Lewis), and a composition textbook, Modern Rhetoric.


Those who care about the Warren and Brooks legacies in American culture must be the ones to sustain the award established in their honor; as the centennial years approach, we encourage you to add the Warren-Brooks Award to the projects you support with annual contributions. For more information, contact Professor Rob Hale and Mr. Jonathan Jeffrey, Co-Director, Center for Robert Penn Warren Studies, Western Kentucky University, 1 Big Red Way, Bowling Green, Kentucky 42101-3576 (phone 270-745-5721).

If you can give a substantial amount but would like to discuss what form your gift should take, Professor Hale can provide you with expert advice through the Western Kentucky Foundation offices (call toll free at 1-888-958-2586).

Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks helped define the ways that society valued its literary heritage in the twentieth century; please help us continue to recognize the best critical scholarship of the new century by supporting the Warren-Brooks Award.


Nominations for the Warren-Brooks award must be made by the publisher. The prize committee sends an inquiry letter every October to a list of University Presses and other publishers asking for nominations. For inquiries about the nomination process (and to be sure your press is on our mailing list) please contact the Robert Penn Warren Fellow at the English Department at Western Kentucky University. You can contact the English Department at:

Robert Penn Warren Fellow Western Kentucky University
Department of English
1906 College Heights Blvd. #11086
Bowling Green, KY 42101-1086

For general information about the Warren-Brooks Award, including details on the nomination process, please contact Dr. Marla Zubel at rpw.center@wku.edu.