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Robert Penn Warren papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 51

Scope and Contents

The Robert Penn Warren Papers consist of manuscript drafts and related material, correspondence, personal papers, writings about Warren, photographs, news clippings, and miscellaneous writings of others, all once in the possession of Robert Penn Warren. The collection spans Warren's life from his undergraduate years at Vanderbilt (1922-1926) to his death in 1989. The bulk of the papers covers the years between 1930 and 1985.

The collection is divided into four series: I. Correspondence, II. Writings, III. Personal Papers, and IV. Writings of Others. Oversize material has been placed at the end of the collection.

Series I., Correspondence , contains letters written to Warren between 1928 and 1988. There are only a few letters or copies of letters from Warren; a list of files which contain these letters is given in Appendix I. Correspondents with five or more letters are given separate files and are listed alphabetically; other correspondents are included in "letter general" files. An asterisk preceding a name in the register indicates that the file contains at least ten letters. Cross references are provided when a correspondent is represented in more than one file.

The correspondence, subdivided into General Correspondence and Publishers Correspondence, is rich in letters from literary figures. Among major authors represented in strength are Conrad Aiken, Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Peter DeVries, James Dickey, Richard Eberhart, Caroline Gordon, Lillian Hellman, John Hersey, John Hollander, Paul Horgan, Randall Jarrell, Robert Lowell, Archibald MacLeish, Alberto Moravia, Katherine Anne Porter, John Crowe Ransom, Theodore Roethke, Paul Rosenfeld, Karl Shapiro, Mark Strand, Jesse Stuart, William Styron, Allen Tate, Peter Taylor, and Eudora Welty. Other noted authors are represented with smaller files. Major literary critics, many of whom offer advice or critiques of Warren's works, include Joseph Warren Beach, Harold Bloom, Cleanth Brooks, Malcolm Cowley, R.W.B. Lewis, Maynard Mack, Arthur Mizener, Samuel Holt Monk, William Van O'Connor, I.A. Richards, Willard Thorp, Lionel Trilling, Louis Untermeyer, Hyatt Waggoner, Dixon Wecter, and René Wellek.

Among those connected with the dramatization of Warren's works are Eric Bentley, Francis Ferguson, Carlisle Floyd, Aaron Frankel, Robert Heilman, Erwin Piscator, and Tony Richardson. Editors and publishers associated with the publication of Warren's writings include Valentino Bompiani, Curtis Canfield, Albert Erskine, James Laughlin, Howard Moss, Morton Zabel, and Alan Swallow. Close personal friends whose letters often reveal much about Warren's life include Francis and Katherine Biddle, Dan Brennan, Huntington and Elizabeth Brown, Marie and Hugh Bullock, Robert Chapman, Brainard and Fannie Cheney, Andrew Corry, Louis Coxe, Lambert Davis, John and Eunice Jessup, Alexander and Jean Kerr, Sydney Mellen, Henry Murray, Frank and Harriet Owsley, John Palmer, Pier Passinetti, Milton Starr, and Elizabeth Stommel.

Also included in General Correspondence are two boxes of fan mail. Unidentified correspondents have been placed at the end of General Correspondence.

Publishers' Correspondence includes letters and documents from publishers of Warren's work, especially Random House and Harcourt & Brace. Other publishers not intrinsically connected with Warren's career are included in General Correspondence.

Many literary critics and friends offer in-depth evaluations of Warren's works. The correspondence contains numerous comments on his early writing. Maxwell Perkins of Charles Scribner's Sons writes to Warren on January 12, 1933, "I never saw anything you wrote that I did not admire, and yet I have never written you about anything except discouragingly." He adds in a later letter, "It seems to me that in view of the quality of your writing in fiction and in poetry both, you have fared very badly. Intrinsically your material is entitled to vastly more recognition than it has ever had. . . " (February 1, 1934). Caroline Gordon critiques several of Warren's early stories and novels. The Joseph Warren Beach correspondence contains, among other literary evaluations, a lengthy defense of At Heaven's Gate against charges that the novel is immoral (c. 1942). Sinclair Lewis objected to the occasional obscenities in this novel ("Anglo-Saxon monosyllables") but added that he was "vastly impressed and moved" by the work.

John Crowe Ransom evaluates a number of Warren's works in his letters, among them John Brown, Brother to Dragons, Band of Angels, and several of Warren's poetry collections. Among other topics, Cleanth Brooks comments on At Heaven's Gate (August 31, 1943), All the King's Men (July 13, 1946), and his collaborations with Warren. Both Allen Tate and Harold Bloom often analyze Warren's poetry at some length, while poets Richard Eberhart, John Hollander, Robert Lowell, and Merrill Moore are among many whose letters critique Warren's poems, individually or collectively.

Literary figures often comment on themselves or others or on diverse literary matters. A number of letters from Cleanth Brooks in the 1930s discuss the development and fate of The Southern Review. An exchange of letters between William Faulkner and W. C. Neill of Mississippi (1955-56) evaluates racial questions and education in that state. Letters from John Gould Fletcher discuss Southern writers and the Fugitives. Randall Jarrell's letters discuss Robert Lowell, Robert Frost, and his own life and writing. An undated letter (c. 1944) describes life in the army during World War II. Lillian Hellman confesses, "I am an old admirer. And my picture of myself, every time I see you, is of a sixteen-year old girl with a crush on a great man" (December 1965).

Robert Lowell's letter of April 8, 1946 announces his debt to Warren: "You were the best teacher that I have ever had, and . . . I hardly knew what poems and stories meant before I met you." James Laughlin, Archibald MacLeish, and Leonie Adams all comment on the incarceration of Ezra Pound and the controversy of his being awarded the Bollingen Prize. Pier Passinetti's letters between 1936 and 1943 give a fascinating, disturbing account of being caught in Europe during World War II. Early letters from Germany and later ones from Sweden speak of Nazi executions, starvation throughout Europe, anti-German resistance, etc.

Especially rich and revealing is the Katherine Anne Porter file. Letters between 1935 and 1940 speak of the impending war in Europe. Her letter of June 22, 1940 interprets Pale Horse, Pale Rider: "Do you remember, Red, I told you in New Orleans in 1937 that it was really a parable of Fascism? Now it is grisly, re-reading a prophecy begun nine years ago in the very middle of its fulfillment." Shortly after Pearl Harbor she makes her commitment to the war clear: "I am all for this war, at least; I feel patriotic and united enough to go work in a munitions factory" (December 11, 1941). Of the reception of Ship of Fools she says, "I have been gleefully entertained watching these perfect strangers make total fools of themselves, because not one of them has ever hit anywhere near what that book is 'about' . . . and it seems to me so clear I would be ashamed to explain it any further." Other letters concern her marriages and divorces, her writings, and her deteriorating health.

Early letters (1928-1930) from Paul Rosenfeld comment on the publication of The American Caravan. In an amusing letter of August 21, 1931, Rosenfeld conducts a mock interview with Warren (in response to Warren's request for an interview) and reveals much about his life and ideas. A letter of September 20, 1931 complements Warren on his published essay on Rosenfeld: "It is evident that you . . . have understood even better than I myself what I am driving at. . . ."

Warren's letter to David Schoonover (Box 84, folder 1637) expresses concern over rumors about Huey Long and the Southern Review. "I am so sick of this over the years, especially since my AKM when I became the chief crypto-fascist." The same letter comments on the origins of All the King's Men and Warren's decision to publish the work as a novel instead of as a play.

Randall Jarrell's letters discuss his army experiences in World War II, his graduate student years, his readings and his poetry. Letters from Allen Tate often discuss his own or Warren's works; many comment on mutual friends, especially literary figures. In a letter of August 9, 1931 Tate asks Warren to write a chapter on the Antietam and Fredericksburg campaigns for his biography of Robert E. Lee. A vitriolic letter from Tate to Stringfellow Barr of the Virginia Quarterly complains about Barr's continual rejection of Tate's poems. "Do you happen to know that the Virginia Quarterly is famous for its rotten poetry?" Tate's letter to Warren of November 30, 1935 similarly criticizes the Southern Review. "It should be borne in mind that we can get the literary material published elsewhere. . . we don't like some of the company we're in."

In a letter from France on September 28, 1932, Tate states, "I hope the agrarian energy will get organized again this fall. I can't understand why it petered out last year--except that we were all so poor." A later letter of December 9 again expresses Tate's puzzlement over what he saw as Agrarian "failure": "It still isn't clear to me, unless we give our hand away to the devil, and confess that we were economically 'determined.' I confess that, but then while I find it comparatively easy to be heroic in poverty, I find it impossible to be effective. It is difficult not to admire one's own heroism, and yet I fear that one cause of the failure of the more heroic agrarians is their complacency with the heroic role."

Depressed at what he felt was a lack of proper recognition for his work, Tate wrote Warren on May 17, 1971, "You have been prolific at a high level; I've written perhaps two good poems (maybe better than good); but surrounding these are more than 200 duds." He adds, "You go in for massive effects, both in verse and in fiction; I try for detailed perfection because I have less confidence in my powers than you have in yours."

In other letters Tate discusses Dreiser, Faulkner, Lowell, Eliot, Ransom, Twain, and other literary figures, as well as his own writing and his marital situations. Letters from Ann Waldron give further glimpses of Tate and his family. A copy of a letter from Warren to Waldron (August 25, 1984) gives a summary of Warren's early association with Tate and Caroline Gordon.

In his early letters especially, John Crowe Ransom comments on his perception of poetic theory. His letter of January 20, 1930 speaks of I'll Take My Stand: "Don, Andrew Lytle, Tate, and I have got things cooked up to the point where they can't be stopped. I refer to the Old South movement. . . ." He mentions a plan among the main contributors to purchase a county newspaper in Tennessee as a mouthpiece.

The file for Eudora Welty contains a draft of Warren's "letter for a collection for Eudora Welty's 75th. birthday--issued by the Palaemon Press." Welty's letter of January 23, 1955 mentions her efforts to get Gwyn Jones published in the United States, and her letter of October 31, 1935 comments on her attempt to turn one of her stories, "The Ponder Heart," into a play. Her letter of August 26, 1965 comments briefly on race relations in the United States and Warren's Who Speaks for the Negro? Several of her letters speak of Katherine Anne Porter's distress in her later years.

Several of Thornton Wilder's letters discuss the state of modern drama and his own playwriting. His letter to Warren of November 11, 1968 states, "Very lively to me is the possibility that you may be the man to recreate for our time the greatest of all the modes of literature--the drama in verse." He adds, "The prose play is dead--the theatre has only a future as mass ritual and as poetic drama."

The file for William Morris Agency gives a wealth of information on Warren's relationships and contract negotiations with various publishers and his association with Hollywood (including information on negotiations for filming All the King's Men and a copy of Warren's plot outline for a never-completed filmscript for an Alan Ladd movie).

Series II., Writings , consists of various complete and incomplete drafts of Warren's writings, notes, source material, proofs, reviews, publicity, editorial material, and related correspondence. The series has been expanded to include materials that represent Warren's thoughts, such as transcripts of interviews and panel discussions. This series in divided into Books, containing works authored, co-authored, or edited by Warren, including unpublished book-length works; and Shorter Works, subdivided into Poems; Short Stories; Short Plays; Essays and Articles; Reviews; Speeches, Lectures and Introductions; Panel Discussions; and Interviews. The arrangement for this series is alphabetical by title under each subdivision. The series covers writings dating from Warren's undergraduate years at Vanderbilt to his death in 1989.

The various holograph or typescript drafts of Warren's longer works give a revealing glimpse into his writing process. When a title has more than several drafts, these are generally identified as "Draft A," "Draft B," etc. Although an attempt has been made to organize these drafts in chronological sequence, following the pattern of corrections and Warren's occasional identifications, the sequencing should not be taken as a positive indication of the direction of Warren's composition. Titles with complex composition and publication histories, such as All the King's Men and Brother to Dragons, have been subdivided to show more clearly the various changes these titles have undergone. Thus All the King's Men is subdivided into its various manifestations as Proud Flesh, All the King's Men (novel, drama, and film adaptation), and Willie Stark: His Rise and Fall. The various dramatic versions have been arranged chronologically by production (Dramatic Workshop, 74th Street Theatre, etc.). Brother to Dragons contains numerous drafts of both the original poem and Warren's later revision, with dramatic versions separated by production.

Who Speaks for the Negro contains a large file of source material (news clippings, articles, pamphlets) for Warren's study of race relations; transcripts of interviews with black Americans (the original tapes of which are currently in Historical Sound Recordings in Sterling Memorial Library), and drafts of the final compilations. A typescript draft of Warren's untitled novel (c. 1935) has been placed at the end of Books.

Drafts of individual poems and short stories for the most part have been placed in Shorter Works in alphabetical sequence. Typescripts of collected poems or short stories have been put under appropriate titles in Books; individual poems or stories clearly revised for a particular collection have also been placed here. A number of poems have copies of the printed version on which Warren made subsequent changes. Some drafts carry comments and suggestions by Allen Tate and others.

"Speeches, Lectures, and Introductions" contains Warren's acceptance speeches for numerous honors; introductions of and tributes to literary figures; and speeches on literary subjects. "Panel Discussions" includes typescripts of symposia and discussions in which Warren participated. "Interviews," arranged alphabetically by name of the interviewer, contains transcripts of printed interviews with Warren concerning his writings or life, conducted between 1957 and 1988.

Series III., Personal Papers , is arranged alphabetically by subject. Included in this series are Warren's various awards and honorary degrees (with related material), financial and legal papers, biographical and family information, publicity notices and Warren's readings and lectures, photographs, medical records, and subject files. "Biographical Information" includes a copy of Warren's autobiographical sketch and information on his early schooling (including one of his report cards). "Financial Papers" includes, among other categories, bank statements and cancelled checks, financial ledgers, royalty statements, and travel receipts. "Photographs" includes photos of Warren, family and friends, group photos, copies of Eudora Welty's photos of Katherine Anne Porter, and miscellaneous photos and sketches. Miscellaneous material has been placed at the end of this series.

Series IV., Writings of Others , is divided into "Writings on Warren" (dissertations, essays, and news clippings); typescripts and special printings of works by significant authors; essays containing Warren's holograph comments and corrections; adaptations of works by Warren; submissions to the Lamont Poetry Contest, for which Warren was a judge; and a large miscellaneous file containing typescripts of writings sent to Warren or printed texts in Warren's possession.

Series V., January 1995 Acquisition , includes correspondence, manuscript and typescript drafts of writings, and personal papers.

Series VI., November 1995 Acquisition , contains an autograph letter, signed to Warren from Denis Devlin, 1960.

Correspondence Files with Letters from Robert Penn Warren

Louise Bogan (See also: National Endowment for the Arts)

David M. Clay

Caren Devlin

Richard Eberhart

Albert Erskine

Francis Fergusson (copy of recommendation)

Franklin Library

William Gitelson

Harvard University (letter to Harry Levin)

Hiram Haydn

John Hersey

Kenneth Holland

John Hollander

L. Housman

Huestis Supply Company

R. Kastelanetz

Mark Lee

Library of Congress

Louisiana State University (August 13, 1961: Analysis of "Dulce et Decorum")

Staughton Lynd (notes on envelope)

University of Mississippi

William R. Mitchell ('M' general)

W. Kelly Mosely

The Nation Company

National Endowment for the Arts (brief notes)

New York Times

New York Times Review of Books

Frank L. Owsley (notes on letter of January 10, 1936)

Pier Passinetti

Payson and Clarke (see "Financial Papers" in Personal Papers)

Sergio Perosa

Laurence Perrine

Poetry Center

Katherine Anne Porter

Leslie J. Schreyer

Mildred Sherman

Merwyn Wall

David Walper

J. Howard Woolman

Herman Wouk

Yale University Libraries

Bella Zemplany


  • 1906-1989


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Boxes 333 and 334 contain audiovisual material. Restricted fragile. Reference copies may be requested. Consult access services for further information.

Conditions Governing Use

The Robert Penn Warren 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

The Robert Penn Warren Papers, on deposit at the Beinecke beginning in 1955, were purchased in 1986. An addition to the papers was purchased in 1995.


151.72 Linear Feet ((334 boxes) + cold storage)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers consist of drafts of manuscripts and related material, correspondence, photographs, and newspaper clippings documenting Warren's life from his undergraduate years until his death in 1989.


Robert Penn Warren, the only American writer to win the Pulitzer Prize for both fiction and poetry, was born in Guthrie, Kentucky on April 24, 1905, the second child of Robert F. and Anna Penn Warren. Educated in the school systems of Guthrie and Clarksville, Tennessee, Warren at sixteen attended Vanderbilt University. At Vanderbilt Warren came under the influence of John Crowe Ransom and a talented group of faculty and undergraduate writers that included Allen Tate, Donald Davidson, Merrill Moore, and others. Warren contributed his early poetry to The Fugitive, the Nashville literary journal which became a noteworthy mouthpiece between 1922 and 1925 for new expressions in American poetry. After graduating summa cum laude from Vanderbilt in 1925, Warren completed an M.A. at the University of California at Berkeley in 1927, undertook further graduate studies at Yale, and in 1929 was selected for a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford, completing his B. Litt. degree in 1930. That same year he married Emma Brescia, whom he had met in California. The previous year, Warren had published his first book, a biography of the noted abolitionist John Brown.

After teaching literature for one year at Southwestern College (Memphis) and three years at Vanderbilt, Warren was appointed to the English faculty at Louisiana State University in 1934. There he joined Cleanth Brooks and Charles Pipkin in founding and editing the Southern Review, one of the major academic literary magazines of the 1930s. During his tenure at Louisiana State, Warren completed his first book of poetry, Thirty-six Poems (1936), and his first novel Night Rider (1939). In 1936 he began his collaboration with Cleanth Brooks in producing the first of several influential literary textbooks, An Approach to Literature, followed by Understanding Poetry (1938) and Understanding Fiction (1943).

In 1942 Warren joined the faculty at the University of Minnesota, where he remained until 1950, when he went to Yale. In 1944-1945 he took a leave of absence to become a Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress. His third novel, All the King's Men (1946), won him his first Pulitzer Prize; he received subsequent Pulitzer Prizes for two volumes of poetry, Promises (1958) and Now and Then (1979). In 1952 Warren married Eleanor Clark and moved to Fairfield, Connecticut, his home until his death. They had two children.

In 1960 Warren was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 1986 he became the first Poet Laureate of the United States. His many other honors include two Guggenheim Fellowships, the National Book Award, the Bollingen Prize for Poetry, the Copernicus Award from the Academy of American Poets, the MacArthur Foundation prize, and numerous honorary degrees and certificates.

Robert Penn Warren died on September 14, 1989 at eighty-four.

Processing Information

Collections are processed to a variety of levels, depending on the work necessary to make them usable, their perceived research value, the availability of staff, competing priorities, and whether or not further accruals are expected. The library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.

The bulk of the collection was processed in 1991. The January 1995 Acquisition and the November 1995 Acquisition received a basic level of processing in 2015, including rehousing and minimal organization. These acquisitions have not been merged with the remainder of the collection. Instead, they are described separately in the contents list below, identified by unique call numbers and titled according to month and year of acquisition.

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

This collection includes materials previously identified by the call numbers Za MS 425 and Uncat Za File 341.

Guide to the Robert Penn Warren Papers
by William K. Finley
August 1991
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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