Robert Penn Warren was born in Gutherie, Kentucky in 1905. After graduating from high school, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee to attend Vanderbilt University.
Warren began his study working toward a major in Chemistry. Soon, the English proffessors and poets, Donald Davidson and John Crowe Ransom won him over into the analysis of Leterature and Poetry.
Robert's maternal grandfather, Gabriel Thomas Penn, was his essential origin of information and also, his idol. The old man was a Civil War Veteran who had fought with General Forester. He resided on an old, rundown tobacco farm encircled by his books, largely a selection of military history. To his grandson he was the "living symbol of the wild action and romance of the past." Grandfather Penn was very important to Warren's success as well as the rural setting the farm provided. His grandfather devoted much more time to the boy than did his own father. Warren said his grandfather could "quote poetry by the yard." This explains why Warren has been so engrossed in the Civil War and why he judged it to be the "Greatest American Epic." Steve Oney in "A Southern Voice" describes a scene from Warren's youth: "Almost from the time he could walk, Warren spent his afternoons with the old man. Grandpa Penn would sit beneath a tree with the young boy on his knee and reel off ceaseless stories about the Civil War. Fantasies and fascinations of war whirled through the boy's mind like the fragments of glass in a kaleidoscope. Almost before he could read, Warren knew the power of a story."
Robert Penn Warren is one of the most academic and learned of our American Writers, in history, literature, poetry, and even short stories that pertain to American and particularly Southern history. He percieves better than most, how America has changed and just what these changes have cost.
One of his best short stories is "Blackberry Winter" This story deals with the abounding changes a boy goes through as he confronts manhood. He has a feeling of remorse because it is now too late to display sincere appreciation for his parents. "The expence of knowledge is sometimes gained through moral suffering and human loss."
Robert Penn Warren is one of the few American Writers to whom the terms "Man of Letters" and "Man of Principle" can be given without contrition. He believes in literature and the "power of the word." In his analysis, "language can be used to investigate life, explore basic values, and discover the fullness of the relation of a self to the world."
In many of his writings that pertain to the Civil War, Warren employs his well-known way to humanize these men in history. "History is both the blinding force sweeping innocent and guilty alike in it's wake, and the salvation of those searching for self-identity."