Robert Penn Warren: “Mad for Poetry”

Robert Penn Warren, courtesy of the William R. Ferris Collection in the Southern Folklife Collection, Wilson Library, UNC–Chapel Hill.

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Robert Penn Warren: “Mad for Poetry”

by William R. Ferris
Southern Cultures, Vol. 10, No. 4: Winter 2004

"I said, 'Couldn't we go a little slower?' And he said, 'With a white man sitting in this front seat with me? You won't catch me going less than ninety miles an hour. Mister, you'll just have to take it. I'm saving your life.'"

By any measure Robert Penn Warren is one of America’s most prominent literary figures. His published work includes twelve books of poetry, eleven volumes of prose, and twelve novels. Warren is best known for All the King’s Men (1946), a novel based on the life of Huey Long, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize. In his later years Warren produced his finest poetry and received two more Pulitzer Prizes for poetry volumes, Promises: Poems, 1954-1956 (1957) and Now and Then: Poems, 1976-1978 (1978). In recognition of his poetry he served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1972 to 1988 and was appointed the first U.S. Poet Laureate in 1985.