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Robert Penn Warren Circle annual meeting plays host to National and International Speakers


Clarksville, TN – Robert Penn Warren, author of over 60 books of fiction, nonfiction and poetry, is the only person to win three Pulitzer Prizes. His first in 1947 was for the novel, All the King’s Men, based on the life of Huey Long, governor of Louisiana, and according to Warren, also on the life of Julius Caesar. His next two Prizes were for books of poetry. He remains the only person to win Pulitzer Prizes in both the field on fiction and of poetry. He went to Clarksville High School for his senior year and was graduated in 1921. The next year he went to Vanderbilt University and later was made an honorary citizen of the State of Tennessee.

The Annual Meeting of the Robert Penn Warren Circle featured “Robert Penn Warren and History” as its theme this year. Hosted by Austin Peay State University and the Robert Penn Warren Birthplace, meetings featured speakers from England and a dozen states throughout the United States.

Bedford Clark, general editor of Robert Penn Warren letters, shown in the Robert Penn Warren Birthplace

Bedford Clark, general editor of Robert Penn Warren letters, shown in the Robert Penn Warren Birthplace

Participants stayed at Riverside Inn where an opening reception was held. Friday and Saturday morning sessions took place in Morgan University Center at APSU.

A luncheon on Saturday was sponsored by the RPW Birthplace Committee at First Christian Church in “Guthrie, Kentucky, followed by a gathering at the Birthplace for a memorial service remembering Melba Smith, a founding member of the RPW Birthplace Board.

Friday’s sessions at APSU included the following:

  1. Session Chair, Joan Romano Shifflett, U.S. Naval Academy
  2. John Burt, Brandeis University, “Warren’s Jefferson in Brother to Dragons”
  3. Xiaofang Huang, Catholic University of America, “Caught in a Spider Web or a Repetitive Cycle: A Comparative Study on the Views on History in The Wanting Seed and All the King’s Men”
  4. Mitchell Klingenber, Texas Christian University, “The darker forces of our nature: The Limits of Lenity and the Mark of Original Sin in The Legacy of the Civil War
  5. Chair, Randy Hendricks, University of West Georgia
  6. Victor Strandberg, Duke University, “’Mot de Cambronne [Merde]’ this is History”
  7. James A. Perkins, Westminster College; Bedford Clark, Texas A&M University;
  8. Bethany J Csomay, Westminster College,”Do You Like the Ocean?”: A ‘Lost’ Story of Robert Penn Warren
  9. Sarah Rivas, Middle Tennessee State University, “Reclaiming the Mother Figure: Personal History in the Poetry of Robert Penn Warren”
  10. Chair, James Stamant, Agnes Scott College
  11. Keri Overall, Texas Woman’s University, “The History is in the Details: The Accurate and the Missing History in ‘How Willie Proudfit Came Home”
  12. Rodney Vliet, Biola University, “Race Relations in Robert Penn Warren’s Novels”
  13. Clare Byrne, King’s College, “The Race Problem in Robert Penn Warren’s Night Rider”
A young lady asks a question of the panel at the Teaching Workshop during the Robert Penn Warren Circle Annual Meeting

A young lady asks a question of the panel at the Teaching Workshop during the Robert Penn Warren Circle Annual Meeting

Saturday’s agenda in Morgan University Center was as follows:

Teaching Workshop chaired by Leverett Butts, University of North Georgia

Panel Members:

  • Joseph Boyne, Catholic University of America
  • Kyle Taylor, West Georgia Technical College
  • Joan Shifflett, U. S. Naval Academy

The members of the Robert Penn Warren Circle then moved to the First Christian Church in Guthrie. Luncheon featured country ham biscuits, potato au gratin casserole, green beans, snowflake surprise, and an assortment of homemade pies prepared by the ladies of the church.

Following the luncheon, Author Sue Freeman Culverhouse spoke on her latest book, Tennessee Literary Luminaries: From Cormac McCarthy to Robert Penn Warren. Culverhouse described ten of the authors whose biographies appear in the book and then spoke about the contributions Robert Penn Warren’s parents had made in forming his character. She then commented on the accident that caused Warren to lose sight in his left eye and what the resulting physical and mental ramifications of losing sight in one eye can cause.

A memorial tribute to Melba Smith was initiated by Bedford Clark, one of the editors of the Robert Penn Warren letters and continued as various members of the group shared their memories of Ms. Smith’s great contributions to knowledge about the life and work of Robert Penn Warren. Tribute was paid to her conducting several field trips in the Guthrie area for members to see the actual locations where events in Warren’s fiction, nonfiction and poetry originated. The memorial ended with the reading of “Red-Tailed Hawk,” dedicated to Melba Smith, and read by the poet, Mark Miller, who is the editor of the RPW annual and is a professor of English at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.

A reception for Circle members and guests was held at APSU Pace Alumni Center, Emerald Hill, in Clarksville Saturday night at 7:00 p.m. Sponsored by the Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts, APSU, and the RPW Birthplace Committee, the reception featured a dinner buffet. Honored guest was President Tim Hall of Austin Peay State University and members of the Arts and Heritage Committee that sponsors the Clarksville Writers’ Conference in June at Morgan University Center.

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