The Robert Penn Warren Exhibit: Keynote speaker: Poet Dave Smith
Written by Professor Tom Douglass, Department of English
The Robert Penn Warren Exhibit at Joyner Library represents some of the finest work in the Stuart Wright Collection and the largest collection of associated Warren material held outside the Beinecke Library at Yale University. Warren rare and fine print books, typescripts, holograph notes and manuscripts, letters, photographs, and ephemeral documents highlight the life and career of one of the greatest American writers of the 20th century. Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989) is the only writer to have won a Pulitzer Prize in both fiction and poetry. He was at the center of American literary life during his long and prolific career. Educated at Vanderbilt, University of California at Berkeley, and Yale University where he was also chosen to be a Rhodes Scholar at New College, Oxford, Warren first gained notice alongside the Fugitive Poets of Nashville — John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Andrew Lytle and Donald Davidson, writers who are also represented in the SWC.
Warren (along with Cleanth Brooks) co-founded The Southern Review at the newly built Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, a time and place that would help him conceive All the King’s Men (1946), a novel based loosely on the life Governor Huey Long. The Brooks and Warren collaborative editions of Understanding Poetry and Understanding Fiction would define how literature would be taught in the American classroom.
Warren was a prolific author of poetry and fiction, but he also became an important voice of American criticism and the national conscience. The 1964 collection of interviews he conducted with leaders of the nascent Civil Rights movement in Who Speaks for the Negro? (1965) included the first interviews with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, among others, his Jefferson lectures published in Democracy and Poetry (1975) charted the way for a more diverse and democratic representation in American literature.
Recipient of the Bollingen prize, and two-times awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for for Promises: Poems 1954-1956 (1958) and Now and Then (1979), Warren was named the first U.S. Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry in 1986. The SWC includes many manuscripts of his early and later work, and a handful of unpublished poems.
The many prizes of the SWC include manuscripts and published versions of Audubon: A Vision (1969), Brother to Dragons (1953) and (1979), A Place To Come To (1977), Now and Then (1978), Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce (1983), New Dawn (1983), New and Selected Poems (1985), Portrait of a Father (1988), stage and film versions of All the King’s Men, and several essays – “Why Do We Read Fiction?” and “The Use of the Past,” among others. The hundreds of Warren ex-libris in the SWC display his critical interests and the vital relationship shared with the Fugitive Poets and writers of mid-century — Randall Jarrell, Robert Lowell, Peter Taylor, Eudora Welty, and Katherine Anne Porter. Many of these books also contain personal correspondence and significant marginalia.
Joyner Library and ECU’s Contemporary Writers Series are pleased to present Poet Dave Smith as the keynote speaker for the exhibit. Smith is currently the Elliott Coleman Professor of Poetry at Johns Hopkins University. Influenced by the work of James Dickey, AR Ammons, and Robert Penn Warren, Smith’s poetry chronicles the changing landscape of our country and the changing South. He has authored more than 17 books of poetry including Hawks on Wires: Poems 2005-2010 (2011), Little Boats (2006), and The Wick of Memory: New and Selected PoemsLittle Boats, Unsalvaged: Poems 1992–2004 and The Wick of Memory: New and Selected Poems, 1970–2000,Little Boats, Unsalvaged: Poems 1992–2004 and The Wick of Memory: New and Selected Poems, 1970–2000,Little Boats, Unsalvaged: Poems 1992–2004 and The Wick of Memory: New and Selected Poems, 1970–2000,Little Boats, Unsalvaged: Poems 1992–2004 and The Wick of Memory: New and Selected Poems, 1970–2000, (2000) published by LSU Press and Gray Soldiers (1984) published by Stuart Wright. Formerly editor of The Southern Review (the same literary magazine co-founded by Warren), Smith now serves as editor of the Southern Messenger Poets series for Louisiana State University Press.