Cleanth Brooks

Historical Marker #1977 on the Murray State University campus commemorates the life of Calloway County native and literary critic Cleanth Brooks.

In the twentieth century, Brooks and other writers challenged conventionality in the fields of poetry and fiction. These thinkers developed new schools of thought and innovative literary interpretive methods. Brooks became associated with "New Criticism," which employed a close reading analysis of the text and took irony and paradox into special consideration. New Criticism radically altered how literature was viewed.

In addition to being a critic, Brooks was an avid writer. In 1935, along with fellow Kentuckian and writer, Robert Penn Warren, he founded the "Southern Review." Brooks also co-authored three important textbooks, "An Approach to Literature" (1936), "Understanding Poetry" (1938), and "Understanding Fiction" (1943). His other critical works include "The Well Wrought Urn" and writings on the literature of William Faulkner. As a long-tenured professor, Brooks passed on his wisdom by teaching students to read literature with an open mind and without prejudice.

Brooks was born in Murray, Kentucky, on October 16, 1906. His parents, Methodist minister Reverend Cleanth and Bessie Brooks, frequently moved the family due to ministry assignments. The parents sent their son to prep school in Tennessee to ready him for an Ivy League education. His years of diligent study earned him the honor of Rhodes Scholar (1929-1932). He also received degrees from Vanderbilt, Tulane, and Exeter College, Oxford. He accepted a teaching position at Louisiana State University after his graduation in 1932. Remaining at the institution for fifteen years, Brooks eventually took a position at Yale in 1947, where he remained until 1975. He died in 1994.