History of the Robert Penn Warren Circle

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Shortly after Robert Penn Warren's death on 15 September 1989, Victor Strandberg (Duke University) suggested to Allen Shepherd (University of Vermont), James Justus (Indiana University), and James Grimshaw (Texas A&M University-Commerce) that an author’s society ought to be formed to honor Warren’s life and work. By 1990 dues had been set at $5/year, the first Robert Penn Warren Circle Newsletter was out, the organization was incorporated in Kentucky with the assistance of Joe Millichap, and the Circle sponsored panels at the American Literature Association May conference and the Modern Language Association December meeting. 

The following year, 1991, saw the first Robert Penn Warren Circle meeting in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in conjunction with the Western Kentucky University’s Center for Robert Penn Warren Studies annual symposium in April. The updated members roster listed about 150 names, officers and a board were elected, and by-laws written. Besides its annual meetings, the Robert Penn Warren Circle continued to sponsor panels at the South Central MLA, the Northeast MLA, and South Atlantic MLA regional conferences as well as at the Louisiana State University Robert Penn Warren Legacy Conference (1995). In 1996 its annual meeting was held in conjunction with the Herman Melville Society meeting at North Adams State University (Mass.). In 1997 with the generous support of the Warren Estate, the Circle introduced the Eleanor Clark Fellowship for graduate students presenting papers at the annual meeting. 

The presidents of the Robert Penn Warren Circle include: 1990-91, James Justus (Indiana University); 1991-93, James A. Grimshaw, Jr. (Texas A&M University-Commerce); 1993-95, William Bedford Clark (Texas A&M University); 1995-96, Randolph Runyon (Miami University of Ohio); 1996-97, Mark Miller (North Adams State University); 1997-98, Charlotte Beck (Maryville College [Tenn.]); 1998-99, Mary Louise Weaks (Rockford College [Ill.]); 1999-2000, Lucy Ferriss (Hamilton College [N.Y.]}; 2000-01, John Burt (Brandeis University); 2001-02, William Bedford Clark (Texas A&M University); 2002-03, Jim Perkins; 2004-05, Pat Bradley (Middle Tennessee State University); 2005-6 Aimee Berger (Pearson Publishing); 2007-09, Keri Overall (Texas Women's University); 2009-11, Leverett Butts (University of North Georgia); 2011-14, Randy Hendricks (University of West Georgia); 2014-16, Randy Runyon (Miami University of Ohio).

The Robert Penn Warren Circle maintains close affiliations with the Center for Robert Penn Warren Studies and with the Robert Penn Warren Birthplace Museum in Guthrie, Ky. The Robert Penn Warren Circle was founded as a national organization devoted to the publication, dissemination, discussion, and interpretation of scholarship and research concerning the works of the nation’s first Poet Laureate, Robert Penn Warren. Its membership, international in representation, is open to any one who is interested in the works of Robert Penn Warren. Honorary members of the Circle include the late Cleanth Brooks, the late Eleanor Clark, Tommie Warren Frey, R. W. B. Lewis, Gabriel Warren, and Rosanna Warren. The Circle Newsletter provides notices of recent publications on Robert Penn Warren, upcoming conferences related to Robert Penn Warren, and notes and queries regarding Warren’s work and related literary concerns.

After twenty successful years, the Circle looks forward to continued growth and sharing the stimulating ideas prompted by the works of Robert Penn Warren.

Note-Many thanks to James A. Grimshaw, Jr. for providing this history for the developers of this web site. For more on James A. Grimshaw click here.