Growing up in the American South during the 1920's and 30's one is steeped in the history of Southern gallantry and honor, the "Glorious Cause" of the Civil War, agrarian life and politics. Such was the early life of Robert Penn Warren, born April 24, 1905 in Guthrie, Kentucky. He spent his youth on his family's tobacco farm listening to the stories of his grandfathers who had both served with the Confederate Army only a half-century before. Warren dreamed of a military life and was later granted an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. However, in the Summer of 1920, he was blinded in one eye by a stone thrown by his brother, Thomas. Later in life Warren would comment on his misfortune, " I felt a kind of shame,~ shame is not the word, but disqualification for life.some sense of being maimed.".
That accident, however, changed the course of his life as Warren enrolled in Vanderbilt University to study engineering. He quickly became friends with a group of young writers who published a college magazine called The Fugitive. Soon after Warren tried his own hand at writing and saw his work published. The literary seed had been sown.
Warren attended graduate school at both the University of California and Yale University. In 1928 he left the U.S. bound for Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. There was a disdain at the time for classic literature and more importantly its interpretation. In response to the old critics, Warren began experimenting with a new style using both irony and paradoxes. Later this style would become his trademark, along with his strong sense of history. On his return to the U.S. with a degree in English Literature, Warren taught at Southwestern College in Memphis before receiving an invitation from Vanderbilt University in 1931. By 1934 he had taken a position at Louisiana State University where he stayed until 1942.