(above, l. to r., Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, Laura Riding and Merrill Moore)
Last week, Vanderbilt University and NPT announced a new strategic partnership. One outcome of that partnership will be a documentary about The Fugitives — an informal club of Vanderbilt professors, students, and alumni that often met in Nashville between 1915 and 1928 to discuss and debate issues of the time. Among them was Robert Penn Warren, the first poet laureate of the United States, John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate. These were extremely influential people, but unless you run in literary or southern academic circles, you may not be aware of their work. The documentary will help of course, but in the meantime, I thought I’d gather some resources for you if you want to get a jump on things.
Poets.org has a brief introduction to The Fugitives. The page tells us that according to critic J.A. Bryant, the goal of the Fugitives was “to demonstrate that a group of southerners could produce important work in the medium, devoid of sentimentality and carefully crafted.” We also learn that it was Ransom who laid out the concept of New Criticism, which said literary analysis should basically be about the text and nothing else. I remember learning about this theory of criticism while studying English Literature in college. At the time, I completely rejected it. Take Fitzgerald’s work out of the context of his life and the world in which he lived? Or read Don DeLillo’s Falling Man removed from a post-9/11 environment? I hadn’t thought about new criticism until I recently started researching the Fugitives, so I’m probably oversimplifying it. Will have to go back and do some research. Perhaps the documentary will explain it more.
Wikipedia has a skimpy entry on Fugitives (Poets).
For brief biographical sketches of the people who made up The Fugitives, Vanderbilt University has an excellent page dedicated to them and the Agrarians, a secondary group that evolved from The Fugitives. Great bits of info here, from poet and literary journalist John Gould Fletcher befriending T.S. Elliot to poet Laura Riding‘s influence on W. H. Auden, Robert Graves and Norman Cameron.
Everything you need to know about Robert Penn Warren is on his website.