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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

That Pain You Can't Do Without

“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 in southern Kentucky on this date in 1905, Penn Warren had the remarkable ability to put his reader both into a place and inside the lives of those about whom he was writing, whether it was in works of fiction or in his remarkable poetry.

Founder of the influential literary journal, The Southern Review, he is the only person to win the Pulitzer Prize for both fiction and poetry, winning the latter award twice.  His first Pulitzer came for All The King’s Men, the 1947 novel about ruthless Louisiana politician Willie Stark.  It’s one of the few books to also be made into both a movie and an opera, with the movie version earning a Best Picture Academy Award featuring Best Actor winner Broderick Crawford.

Penn Warren’s poetry Pulitzer Prizes were awarded for Promises: Poems 1954-1956, which also won the National Book Award, and Now and Then.  In the 1940s he served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and in 1986 he was named the first U.S. Poet Laureate.  Among his many other honors were a Jefferson Lectureship, the highest Congressional award for achievement in the humanities; The Presidential Medal of Freedom; and The National Medal of Arts.  
        “How do poems grow?” Penn Warren asked.  “They grow out of your life.   The urge to write poetry is like having an itch.  When the itch becomes annoying enough, you scratch it.”

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