Historical marker #1879 in Guthrie (Todd County) marks the boyhood home of Robert Penn Warren, the only person to have won a Pulitzer Prize in the separate categories of fiction and poetry.
Robert Penn Warren was born in Guthrie, KY, on April 24, 1905, to Robert Franklin Warren, a banker and proprietor, and Anna Ruth Penn Warren, a schoolteacher. In the fall of 1911, Warren enrolled at the Guthrie School and graduated at the age of 15. He then went on to Clarksville High School in Clarksville, Tennessee. During the summer of 1921, Warren spent fix weeks in at Citizens Military Training Corp at Fort Knox, KY, where he published his first poem “Prophecy.” He had obtained an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy, but because of an accident in which he suffered an injury to his left eye, the appointment was cancelled. He enrolled at Vanderbilt University in the fall of 1921 at the age of 16.
While a student at Vanderbilt, Warren became involved with a group of poets known as the Fugitives. The Fugitives published a literary magazine called The Fugitive from 1922 to 1925, which is considered one of the most influential journals in the history of American letters. Many of the Fugitives went on to become leaders in the Agrarian movement of the 1930s.
In the summer of 1925, Warren graduated summa cum laude from Vanderbilt and enrolled at the University of California as a graduate student, receiving his M.A. in 1927. Following his graduation from the University of California, he entered Yale University on a fellowship. He was also a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford from 1928 to 1930 and was twice named a Guggenheim fellow.
Warren taught English at Vanderbilt University, Southwestern College (now Rhodes College), the University of Minnesota, Yale University, and Louisiana State University. While at LSU, he founded and edited the literary quarterly The Southern Review. As a poet, he was appointed the nation’s first Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, the official poet of the United States, on February 26, 1986. Warren published 16 volumes of poetry, with two, Promises: Poems, 1954-1956 and Now and Then: Poems, 1976-1978, winning Pulitzer Prizes. He published 10 novels in his lifetime, the first being Night Rider, which was about the tobacco war between independent tobacco growers in Kentucky and large tobacco companies. One of his novels, All the King’s Men, won the Pulitzer Prize. The novel tells the story of populist governor Willie Stark and politics in Depression-era Louisiana, focusing on moral dilemmas individuals in positions of power face.
Robert Penn Warren died on September 15, 1989, and is buried in Stratton, Vermont. At his request, a memorial marker is situated in the Warren family gravesite in Guthrie.
This marker was erected in 1991. It reads:
A native of Guthrie, Warren was one of nation's most prolific writers, a world-renowned man of letters. Graduate of Vanderbilt Univ., summa cum laude, 1925; member of the Fugitives (writers group). Rhodes scholar at Oxford, 1928-1930; and twice a Guggenheim Fellow. He was professor of English at La. State, Minnesota, and Yale universities.
(Reverse) Robert Penn Warren, 1905-1989 - Designated "First Poet Laureate of the United States" by Congress on February 26, 1986. To date only person to receive a Pulitzer Prize in both fiction and poetry. Warren was a three-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize: 1947 in fiction for All the King's Men; 1958 in poetry for Promises; 1979 in poetry for Now and Then: Poems 1976-1978.