“I've been to a lot of places and done a lot of things, but writing was always first. It's a kind of pain I can't do without.” – Robert Penn Warren
Born on this date in 1905, Penn Warren was both a novelist and a poet and co-founded the prestigious literary journal The Southern Review. He is the only writer to win Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and poetry. His historical fiction masterpiece was the remarkable (and one of my favorite reads) All The King’s Men, which won the Pulitzer in 1947, and an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1949. The book was so well received that it also was made into both a play and an opera and a second version of the movie in 2006.
Despite being a wonderful writer of fiction, the author often said that his first writing love was poetry, for which he won two Pulitzers – the first in 1958 for Promises: Poems 1954–1956 and the second in 1979 for Now and Then. Promises also won the National Book Award for Poetry.
A Rhodes Scholar and a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient before winning his first Pulitzer, Penn Warren was perhaps America’s most-honored writer, capped by many of the nation’s most prestigious awards before his death from bone cancer in 1989. Named the nation’s first Poet Laureate in 1986, he also earned The Presidential Medal of Freedom, a MacArthur (genius grant) Fellowship, the National Medal of Arts for Lifetime Achievement, and a Robert Frost Medal.
“The urge to write poetry is like having an itch,” he said when his 1981 poetry book Rumor Verified was published. “And when the itch becomes annoying enough, well, you scratch it.”
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