"Here is a tidbit of news. Sunday afternoon [LSU's] President Smith
took me for an automobile ride and asked if a literary quarterly
could be edited here if he could get the jack in large quantities.
I was not coy.... The magazine will be called the Southern Review".
-- Robert Penn Warren to Allen Tate March 20, 1935
"Cross your fingers and pray that Louisiana doesn't go
-- Warren to Frank Owsley March 21, 1935
at the beginning of 1935, Robert Penn Warren was destined for
arguably the most crucial period in his distinguished career.
Having escaped the brink of unemployment the previous fall to join
fellow Vanderbilt alumnus and Rhodes scholar Cleanth Brooks on the
English faculty at Louisiana State University (which was enjoying a
boom thanks to the favoritism shown by the Long regime), the young
author was poised to establish himself, against the backdrop of the
Great Depression and America's belated entry into World War II, as
a compelling new voice, perhaps the most versatile writer of his
Continuing where Volume One of the Selected Letters left off,
the missives from his Baton Rouge years show Warren exploring and
testing the boundaries of his genius on a number of simultaneous
fronts. Editing the Southern Review with Brooks was the center of
his working life, and it offered him an almost immediate
springboard to prominence on both sides of the Atlantic. Warren was
determined to establish and maintain the stature of the quarterly
even as he systematically nurtured the talent of a younger
generation of writers that included Eudora Welty, Randall Jarrell,
Peter Taylor, and John Berryman. He attended to his own writing as
well and not only emerged as acelebrated poet but also published
his first major fiction. During the same period, he and Brooks drew
directly upon their classroom challenges to design and launch a
series of textbooks that gradually transformed the teaching of
poetry and fiction in American colleges and universities.
What any number of commentators have called Warren's "protean"
energy is in full evidence in these letters. The range and sheer
diversity of his correspondence, whether with old friends,
established literary figures, hopeful young writers, his beloved
wife Cinina, recalcitrant academic administrators, or sometimes
troublesome publishers, reveal an extraordinarily keen mind and
heightened imagination operating in concert with optimum
efficiency. Scrupulously edited and thoroughly annotated by William
Bedford Clark with an eye toward the needs of the lay reader as
well as the specialist, Warren's letters have the immediacy of
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