The Making of an American Classic
Robert Penn Warren’s astonishing 1946 novel All the King’s Men may be the most important political novel in American literature and one of the most accomplished pieces of American post-war fiction. In this class, we will examine the intertwined stories of the novel itself and of its creation; this investigation will provide an avenue to explore questions vital to democracy, to race relations, and to understanding the genius of imaginative literature.
All the King’s Men was published more than seventy years ago, but there may be no better time than the present to dive deeply into Warren’s story of an idealistic southern governor, elected in a wave of populism amid promises to take an axe to a system that had long ignored “rednecks and wool hats” of his rural state. This prize-winning novel stands as a powerful expression of the power of the imagination, the redemption notions of love and a reminder of the responsibility all of us have to live in the world of time and consequence.
Through our readings and discussion, you also will discover the storied life and career of Warren – leading critic, editor, biographer, educator, novelist, journalist and visionary poet – the only person to have won Pulitzer Prizes for both fiction and poetry. Warren began his career as a member of a reactionary cohort of Southern white writers known as the Agrarians; in subsequent years, he grappled with his own history and that of the South, ultimately becoming a leading liberal thinker on race and its role in American life.