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Southern Renaissance

A brief introduction to the Agrarians, the Fugitives, and their peers

Rhonda Armstrong

on 20 August 2013

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Transcript of Southern Renaissance

Southern Renaissance
The Fugitives
The Agrarians
Donald Davidson
Allen Tate
John Crowe Ransom
Robert Penn Warren
Stark Young
Andrew Lytle
Frank Owsley
Lyle Lanier
H. C. Nixon
John Donald Wade
John Fletcher
Henry Blue Kline
The group takes its name from the poetry magazine, The Fugitive, first published in 1922.

Vanderbilt University faculty and Nashvilleans had been meeting to discuss poetry since 1915, with the core group formed in 1920.

The Fugitive poets, influenced by literary modernism, at first welcomed the changes they saw in the South and took their name from their desire to flee the strictures of the Old South.

Between 1922 and 1925, nineteen issues of The Fugitive were published, and the journal became internationally recognized for its poetry and critical essays.

By 1925, Donald Davidson, especially, was turning to more political writing, and the Fugitive Poets as a group began a political shift towards a more positive view of the traditional South.
The Scopes Trial
People of the State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes
Dayton, Tennessee

Popularly known as "the monkey trial," the Scopes trial centered on charges that John T. Scopes had violated a newly enacted state law forbidding the teaching of evoluation. William Jennings Bryan joined the prosecution and Clarence Darrow headed up the defense.

During the trial, Darrow repeatedly attacked the law, and by extension Tennessee and the South in general, as backward, unenlightened, and bigoted.

Columnist H. L. Mencken used the occasion of the trial to write a series of columns criticizing the South as being uncultured and full of uneducated bumpkins.

The four Fugitive poets were offended by Darrow's and Mencken's representations, and the trial spurred them to rethink their previous attitudes towards the South. Although they had long favored cultural progress in the South and had generally identified that progress as having resulted from influences from outside the South, they began to write more positively of Southern exceptionalism, decrying the assumption that Southern culture and attitudess should mimic those of the Northeast.

In 1958, Davidson wrote, "I can hardly speak for others, but for John Ransom and myself, surely, the Dayton episode dramatized, more ominously than any other event easily could, how difficult it was to be a Southerner" (The Southern Writer and the Modern World).
By 1927, Davidson
was proposing a "new book on
the Southern tradition--where it is,
where it isn't, what and how and so on" (Letters).

Davidson, Ransom, and Tate proposed and edited a collection of essays from "the best minds in the South" for a "Southern symposium of prose." The book was published in 1930 as I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition, by Twelve Southerners.

The book was not well received in either the North or South, and Mencken devoted a two-part review savaging the book and its premise. It was so controversial that the Twelve Southerners went on a debate tour, where they defended their ideas against ideological opponents in front of crowds of hundreds.
Agrarians Timeline

John Crowe Ransom receives B. A. from Vanderbilt


Ransom joins Vanderbilt faculty


Ransom, Donald Davidson and others begin meeting regularly to discuss poetry


Davidson receives his B. A. from Vanderbilt


Davidson joins the Vanderbilt faculty

Poetry group meetings start up again after a hiatus during the war. The sixteen group members will go on to form the Fugitives, with Ransom, Davidson, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren at its core


First issue of The Fugitive is published in April

Allen Tate receives his B. A. from Vanderbilt


Warren receives his B. A. from Vanderbilt

Scopes Trial is held in Dayton, Tennessee

Final issue of The Fugitive is published in December


The Fugitives Anthology is published


I'll Take My Stand is published


Warren joins the Vanderbilt faculty


Warren and Cleanth Brooks form the Southern Review


Ransom leaves Vanderbilt for Kenyon College

Warren and Brooks publish Understanding Poetry


Ransom forms the Kenyon Review


Ransom publishes The New Criticism


Warren leaves Vanderbilt for the University of Minnesota


Warren publishes All the King's Men


Fugitives Reunion at Vanderbilt
Walter Curry
William Elliott
James Frank
William Frierson
Sidney Hirsch
Stanley Johnson
Merrill Moore
Laura Riding
Alfred Starr
Alec Stevenson
Jesse Wills
William Wills
The other
The other Fugitives:
Vanderbilt graduate student
Psychology, Vanderbilt
novelist and biographer
Political Science, Tulane
History, Vanderbilt
American literature, Vanderbilt
novelist and drama critic
The Agrarians were not as cohesive a group as the Fugitives had been, never meeting regularly and with different goals for their cause. Although the central four continued to correspond and they collaborated on a follow-up collection in 1936, I'll Take My Stand was their major contribution.
By 1936, Ransom was contemplating a move to Kenyon College in Ohio. He wrote to Tate that "I have about contributed all I can to [the agrarian and regionalist] movements ...."
Though Davidson continued to write on Agrarian topics, the other core members of the Fugitive Poets gradually shifted back to purely literary pursuits.
For further reading
Vanderbilt University Libraries Special Collections:
"With the war of 1914-1918, the South reentered the world--but gave a backward glance as it slipped over the border: that backward glance gave us the Southern renascence, a literature conscious of the past in the present."
--Allen Tate
Full transcript