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Cleanth Brooks papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 30

Scope and Contents

The Cleanth Brooks Papers contain correspondence, manuscripts of books, textbooks, essays, lectures, and various other shorter works, classroom material, professional papers, writings of others, and personal papers which document aspects of the life and career of Cleanth Brooks, literary critic, scholar, educator, and lecturer. The material spans the years 1927 to 1986, with the bulk falling between 1960 and 1986.

The papers are housed in ninety-five boxes and are divided into six series. Writings is by far the largest series in the collection. Correspondence comprises the second largest series. Reserve lists, classroom lectures, examinations, gradebooks, cultural attaché material, conference material, subject files, interviews, writings of others, biographical material, photographs, student notebooks, and miscellaneous papers make up the rest of the collection. Oversize, and Restricted Fragile Papers are placed at the end.

Series I, Correspondence (Boxes 1-16), covers the period 1933-86 and reflects the close relationship between Brooks and many of the leading figures in twentieth-century American letters. Areas of particular interest are those dealing with literary criticism and with Southern literature and culture. Members of the Agrarian Movement represented are Donald Davidson, Andrew Nelson Lytle, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren. Major Southern writers found in the collection are James Dickey, William Faulkner, Walker Percy, Katherine Anne Porter, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, and Eudora Welty. Although the papers contain relatively little concerning Brooks's editorship of The Southern Review, the journal is discussed in the correspondence of many Southern writers and there is a subject file on The Southern Review in Series IV (Box 87, folder 1809).

Leading poets include W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, Randall Jarrell, Robert Lowell, Marianne Moore, John Crowe Ransom, Robert Penn Warren, and William Butler Yeats. Major literary critics represented are Kenneth Burke, Malcolm Cowley, William Empson, John Gould Fletcher, Norman Forester, Robert B. Heilman, R. W. B. Lewis, Marshall McLuhan, Moelwyn Merchant, James B. Meriwether, I. A. Richards, Louis D. Rubin, Jr., Lewis P. Simpson, Lionel Trilling, Eric Voegelin, René Wellek, and William K. Wimsatt. Correspondence of editors of literary journals includes that of George Core and John J. E. Palmer. The folders of correspondence of the Library of Congress are of considerable interest, particularly as they relate to the Bollingen Prize. The series also contains correspondence of several former students of Brooks, such as Reid Buckley, Robert Drake, and Judith Kroll. Of special note for their volume are the folders of Lee Anderson, Marshall McLuhan, James B. Meriwether, Katherine Anne Porter, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Eleanor Clark Warren, Robert Penn Warren, and the Library of Congress.

Although Series I constitutes the bulk of such material, correspondence also occurs in other series. Aside from Series I, there are two other alphabetical runs of correspondence, as well as single folders scattered throughout the collection. In the Percy Editorial Project subseries may be found a considerable amount of correspondence (Boxes 26 and 27). This material documents the communication between Brooks and other Percy scholars, institutions holding Percy manuscripts, and the publisher. Of particular interest are the exchanges of letters with David Nichol Smith and with A. F. Falconer. Box 83 of the Cultural Attaché Material subseries contains a sizeable portion of correspondence which reflects Brooks's activity as cultural attaché to the American Embassy in London from 1964 to 1966. In the Conferences subseries (Boxes 84-85) there is correspondence from the U. S. State Department, which sponsored Brooks in several overseas conferences and also from professors and students. In the Books subseries of Writings, correspondence is frequently found toward the end of the hierarchical arrangement of material pertaining to each individual work. In these folders, the exchange is primarily of co-authors, publishers, and the like.

Series II, Writings (Boxes 17-80), represents the creative output of Brooks the critic, author, and commentator. Box 17, folder 346 holds a bibliography compiled by Brooks of his writings from the 1940s through the 1970s. Although quite helpful, it is not definitive. The bibliography lists books, essays, and lectures. Many essays began as lectures, as is evidenced by the crossindexing system. The Percy Editorial Project subseries (Boxes 17-27) represents Brooks's involvement in the editing of the correspondence of Thomas Percy, who with his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry is often regarded as the father of modern-day historical editing. This involvement, which began at Oxford in the early 1930s, reflects Brooks's close association as coterminous general editor of the entire project, first with David Nichol Smith and later with A. F. Falconer. Brooks also served as individual editor of volumes II and VII. The material in this section consists of copies of Percy's correspondence, Brooks's research material and notes, drafts, and subject files, as well as correspondence generated by Brooks with various Percy scholars and repositories.

The Books subseries (Boxes 28-64) consists of research material, notes, manuscript drafts, galley proofs, page proofs, advertisements, publicity, book reviews, and additional related material. The majority of works are college textbooks on English literature and poetry, although some were written for a more general audience. The material does not always provide a complete picture of what went into the creation of a work. Some works are represented from their initial stages through to completion, such as American Literature: The Makers and the Making, Modern Rhetoric, Understanding Poetry, and William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country. Modern Poetry, for instance, appears under three draft titles, i.e. "An Apology for Intellectual Poetry," "The Poetry of Tiresias," and "The Anatomy of Modern Poetry." For others there are only fragmentary remnants of the creative process, such as An Anthology of Stories from the Southern Review, Fundamentals of Good Writing, Tragic Themes in Western Literature, and Understanding Drama. Three of Brooks's four works on Faulkner are represented here. An artificial unit entitled "William Faulkner: Related Material" was created to include all biographical, referential, and printed material, as well as correspondence concerning Faulkner.

The Shorter Works subseries (Boxes 64-80) is composed primarily of research material and notes, manuscript drafts, and occasional offprints. The "Essays and Lectures" section, which constitutes over ninety percent of this subseries, is broken down into three groups. In the first, short writings concerning authors in general or their works are arranged alphabetically by essay or lecture title under the author's name and then under the title of the individual work. In the second section, short writings are broken down into six subjects: "Culture," "Education," "Literary Criticism," "Literature, General," "Poetry," "Religion," and "Southern Literature and Culture." The third group, "Printed Material," contains lecture programs, schedules, flyers, and newspaper clippings. Other kinds of writings in this subseries are sermons, speeches, book reviews, radio scripts, radio program reviews, and letters to the editor.

Series III, Classroom Material (Boxes 81-82), documents Brooks's activities as a university professor. The material includes reserve lists, transcriptions of classroom lectures, examinations, and gradebooks. Materials relating to students; examinations and gradebooks, are restricted from use until 75 years after their creation. The specific dates for the opening of these materials are noted in the box and folder list.

Series IV, Professional Papers (Boxes 83-87), primarily concerns aspects of Brooks's professional life aside from writing, public lecturing, teaching, and other academic duties. Though still scholarly in nature, this series reflects his interests and activities outside of the university setting. The section entitled "Cultural Attaché Material" covers a particularly interesting period in Brooks's life, during which he served as a cultural attaché to the American Embassy in London (1964-66). Brooks was one of the first participants in an experimental program in which academicians were recruited to serve as overseas goodwill ambassadors. They gave talks and lectures in an effort to demonstrate America's interest and involvement in intellectual affairs. The Visiting Professorships and Conferences, Symposia, Seminars, Trips, etc. subseries contain evidence that Brooks was constantly on the move teaching and lecturing. The section entitled "Interviews" represents transcriptions of interviews between Brooks and various individuals from throughout his career, while the one entitled "Subject Files" serves as an information source primarily on writers and literary topics.

Series V, Writings of Others (Boxes 88-89), is divided into three subseries. The first consists of essays on Brooks, the second primarily contains poems that Robert Penn Warren sent to Brooks for his comment or amusement, and the third subseries is largely composed of essays by various authors on an assortment of literary topics. For related Warren material, see the Robert Penn Waren Papers at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Series VI, Personal Papers (Boxes 90-93), reflects the personal life of Cleanth Brooks. Biographical material, including a sizeable collection of photographs of Brooks, his family, colleagues, and friends, evidence of Brooks's involvement in the Episcopal Church, student notebooks primarily from his days at Exeter College, Oxford, and miscellaneous papers are found in this series.

Series VII, Additions Since 1978 (Boxes 96-129), contains research material compiled by Brooks, correspondence, writings by Brooks and others, and personal papers.

Oversize (Box 94) contains material from Series II, IV, and VI. It includes copies of Percy correspondence, newspaper advertisements for Brooks's publications, subject files, posters announcing lectures by Brooks, miscellaneous material, and one large photograph.

Restricted Fragile Papers (Box 95) contains eleven sound recordings on magnetic tape in various sizes, which are restricted pending duplication. These primarily represent interviews between Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren relating to various literary collaborations.


  • 1926 - 1994
  • Majority of material found within 1960 - 1986


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research. Boxes 81a-82 (examinations and gradebooks): Restricted until January 1, 2063. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Boxes 95 and 120 (audiovisual material): Restricted fragile material. Reference copies may be requested. Consult Access Services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Cleanth Brooks Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Acquired primarily through gift from Cleanth Brooks, 1987-1995. For more information, consult the appropriate curator.


Organized into seven series: I. Correspondence, 1933-1986. II. Writings, 1928-1986. III. Classroom Material, 1949-1975. IV. Professional Papers, 1940-1986. V. Writings of Others, 1943-1986. VI. Personal Papers, 1927-1986. VII. Additions Since 1978, 1926-1994.


70.67 Linear Feet (130 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The Cleanth Brooks Papers contain correspondence, manuscripts of books, textbooks, essays, lectures, and various other shorter works, classroom material, professional papers, writings of others, and personal papers which document aspects of the life and career of Cleanth Brooks.

CLEANTH BROOKS (1906-1994)

Cleanth Brooks, one of the founders of New Criticism, Faulkner scholar, educator, and lecturer, was born in Murray, Kentucky, on October 16, 1906 to the Rev. Cleanth and Bessie Lee Witherspoon Brooks. His father, a Methodist minister, was assigned to parishes primarily in western Tennessee, where Brooks spent most of his early life. Brooks received a classical education at The McTyeire School in McKenzie, Tennessee, and went on to obtain a bachelor's degree in English from Vanderbilt University, where during his freshman year he met his lifelong friend and frequent literary collaborator, Robert Penn Warren, then a senior. While at Vanderbilt, Brooks became keenly interested in literature and poetry. Although the Nashville poets were to discontinue their publication, The Fugitive, soon after he arrived at Vanderbilt, Brooks did get to know them and has remained closely associated with the members of that group throughout his life.

After completing his studies at Vanderbilt, Brooks attended Tulane University and was granted a master's degree in English. He then went to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, where he received a B. A. (honors) in 1931 and a B. Litt. in 1932; he also became associated with the editing of the correspondence of the eighteenth-century ecclesiastic and literary figure, Thomas Percy, a project with which he would remain intimately involved over the next fifty years.

Upon his return from Oxford in 1932, Brooks was appointed professor of English at Louisiana State University. In 1934 he married Edith Amy Blanchard, known as Tinkum to her friends. Brooks and Robert Penn Warren, who joined the LSU faculty two years after Brooks's arrival, jointly edited The Southern Review from 1935 to 1942. For information documenting Brooks's editorship of this journal, see The Southern Review Collection at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. In 1946 Brooks was named the first occupant of the Read chair of English. Also during his LSU tenure, he began writing (with Robert Penn Warren) the first of many college textbooks for the teaching of literature and poetry.

In 1947 Brooks was appointed professor of English at Yale University, where his courses on Faulkner became legendary. In 1961 he was designated Gray Professor of Rhetoric, from which post he retired in 1975. Throughout his life Brooks has been a prolific lecturer and since retirement has been an active visiting professor. He has received numerous honorary degrees and awards. His major works include American Literature: The Makers and the Making (with Warren and R. W. B. Lewis) (1973), The Hidden God (1963), Literary Criticism (with William K. Wimsatt) (1957), Modern Poetry and the Tradition (1939), A Shaping Joy (1971), Understanding Fiction (with Warren) (1943), Understanding Poetry (with Warren) (1938), The Well Wrought Urn (1947), and four books on Faulkner.

For further biographical information, see The Possibilities of Order: Cleanth Brooks and His Work (1976) by Lewis P. Simpson and Parnassus on the Mississippi: The Southern Review and the Baton Rouge Literary Community, 1935-1942 (1984) by Thomas W. Cutrer.

Brooks died in New Haven on May 10, 1994.

Processing Information

Series VII. Additions Since 1978 was added to the Cleanth Brooks Papers in 2013. The series received a basic level of processing only, including rehousing and in some instances minimal organization. Various acquisitions associated with the series have not been merged and organized as a whole. Each acquisition is described separately in the contents list below according to month and year of acquisition. Folder titles appearing in the contents list below for Series VII. are often based on those provided by the creator or previous custodian. Titles have not been verified against the contents of the folders in all cases. Otherwise, folder titles are supplied by staff during initial processing.

This finding aid may be updated to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Former call numbers: Uncat Za Ms 595, Uncat Za Ms 420, Uncat Za Ms 422, Uncat Za Ms 445, Uncat Za Ms 459, and Uncat Za File 571

Guide to the Cleanth Brooks Papers
In Progress
by T. Michael Womack
June 1988
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Access Information

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