Write On! Eighty-Year-Old Robert Penn Warren Is Named America's First Poet Laureate
updated 03/17/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 03/17/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST
Perhaps the nation's most distinguished man of letters, Warren has published, over the past 54 years, 10 novels, 16 volumes of poetry, a play and many critical, historical and biographical works. As the only person to win Pulitzer prizes for both fiction (All the King's Men, 1947) and poetry (Promises, 1957; Now and Then, 1979), Warren is a natural for the post. Unlike Britain's poet laureate, Warren will be paid $36,000 annually instead of a case of wine and £100 and will serve one or two years instead of a lifetime.
Born in Guthrie, Ky. in 1905, Warren graduated from Vanderbilt University and first gained fame as one of the Fugitives, a group of primarily Southern poets(John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate) whose work stressed agrarian values. He later taught at Yale between 1950 and 1973. He and his wife, novelist and travel writer Eleanor Clark, live in a converted barn in Fairfield, Conn, and write every day in separate studios until 2:30 p.m.
Despite all his laurels, Warren has never been much concerned with prestige. What is the importance of poetry to the nation? "It isn't important," he says in his rapid Kentucky twang. "It's just poetry. A poet just writes poems. He hopes to, anyway." Typically, he's too modest. Robert Penn Warren's poetry defines, refines, exalts and exults. Next assignment, class: Check it out.