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Red Talk

Robert Penn Warren (1905-1989) was, in the old expression, a man of parts, a complex intellectual who spent much of his adult life in northern universities, a Kentucky farm boy with the heart and soul of a Confederate gentleman. A founding member of the Agrarian movement of the 1930's, leader of the so-called Fugitive circle of poets, and guiding light of the New Criticism, he was both culturally conservative and artistically avant-garde. And he was a first-rate thinker and a good talker, as the pages of the delightful collection Talking with Robert Penn Warren reveal in abundance.

Comprising 24 conversations, interviews, and transcribed television appearances, the collection reveals Warren at his plainspoken best. He is generous, bookish, matter-of-fact, occasionally impatient. "I think people can freeze themselves by their hasty intellectualizing of what they are up to," he remarks, somewhat impatiently, to a too-pompous interlocutor, and goes on to spin out front-porch anecdotes of the writer's life that shun academic pretense and are all the more attractive for it.

Yet Warren's homespun talk is perfectly serious, the more so as the years roll by. (The collection is arranged chronologically, and the reader has the chance to see Warren revising himself, his opinions, even the facts of his life from page to page.) He reiterates the concerns of his Agrarian days, drawing on Jeffersonian ideals...

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