The late Mark Winchell’s recently published Robert Penn Warren: Genius Loves Company is a collection of essays focusing on Warren’s close associations and literary affinities. Warren was known as a kind and generous man who encouraged other writers in their work, helped those in need, and nurtured fragile friendships over a lifetime, sometimes with people whose political views he rejected. Whether genius loves company is debatable. Faulkner certainly didn’t. Neither did Emily Dickinson. As this book proves, Warren clearly did.
Some of the essays—written by divers hands—dwell on personal relationships. Others deal almost exclusively with similarities in theme and technique. Most split the difference. All, however, have their roots in biography, the genre that Mark Winchell understood better than almost anyone else.
Winchell’s own contribution is perhaps the most useful because it examines Warren’s closest and most important literary friendship—with critic Cleanth Brooks. The two met at Vanderbilt, renewed their friendship as students at Oxford, taught together at LSU, were cofounders of the original Southern Review, and ended up on the faculty of Yale University, where they remained close friends and collaborators until Warren died in 1989.