|RPW On Being a Southern Writer:
crossed my mind when I began writing fiction that I could write about anything except life
in the South. It never crossed my mind that I knew about anything else; know, that
is, at the level you know something to write about it. Nothing else ever nagged you enough
to stir the imagination."
|RPW On Black Americans:
"The Negro in a secret
and suppressed has made great contributions to American life, even when he was supposedly
cut off from participation. The effect of the Negro has been enormous. We can't even guess
what America would have been like without the Negro. No Civil War, a totally different
structure of American life, different language, different music. Yet while the Negro has
made an enormous impact racially, he's been cut off individually. This full recognition,
the full release of energy, could come anytime in the next fifteen to thirty years. And it
will be tremendous."
|Filled with entertaining anecdotes and personal reflections,
this collection of twenty-four conversations with Robert Penn Warren provides an
illuminating glimpse of the man and his thoughts on life and literature. Ranging from a
self-interview to transcripts of television appearances to discussions with other writers
such as Flannery O'Connor, Ralph Ellison, and William Styron, these dialogues encompass
Warren's wide interests-history, politics, technological change, teaching, race
relations-and span a period of more than three decades.
"Perhaps in no literary
genre is an author more completely and accurately himself or herself than in an
interview," the editors note. "Every attribute of Robert Penn Warren-his
folksiness, his wit, his honesty and openness-or, in short, the full man-is peculiarly
adapted to the genre." Strongly apparent, for example, are Warren's feelings about
his country: "I'm in love with America; the funny part of it is, I really am,"
he tells Bill Moyers. Even so, he does not shrink form criticizing America's shortcomings
as his comments to Edwin Newman about the Civil War and the country's involvement in
Vietnam make clear.
Warren's asides are replete with biographical gems. To interviewer Peter Stitt he
remarks that he never intended to go to Vanderbilt, but to Annapolis, and that once at
Vanderbilt, his original chosen vocation was chemical engineering-a goal that changed
after he enrolled in a literature class taught by John Crowe Ransom. Particularly
revealing, however-especially to young writers-are Warren's reflections on the creative
process. "Don't leave a page until you have it as near what you want as you can make
it that day," he advises. When Warren speaks of his own writing career, there
is no false modesty in his statements about his "trying" to be a writer or of
"inching" along in the creative process. Rather, one sees a man who knows
well the very tentative and makeshift nature of literary effort.
While offering views on other writers-from Homer and Shakespeare to Hemingway and Nikki
Giovanni-Warren reflects as well on the role of criticism: "All the study about a
writer or a work, all the analyses of background or ideas or the structure of a work-the
purpose of all this is to prepare the reader to confront the work with innocence, with
simplicity, and with directness." And when asked if "poetic value" can be
defined, Warren answers, "Well, if I could define it today, I wouldn't accept the
same definition tomorrow."
Robert Penn Warren, the country's first poet laureate and the only writer to win the
Pulitzer Prize in both fiction and poetry, left no autobiography. Thus, Warren's
conversations become one of the most important single sources for anyone seeking to
understand his life and art.