Undated portrait. Photo courtesy of Yale University.

Inducted 2020

Born: October 16, 1906 Murray, Kentucky
Died: May 10, 1994 New Haven, Connecticut

Cleanth Brooks was one of 20thcentury America’s most respected literary critics and influential literature professors.

With Robert Penn Warren, his classmate and longtime colleague, Brooks wrote the classic college textbooks Understanding Poetry (1938) and Understanding Fiction (1943). They promoted what became known as the New Criticism, which focused on a close reading and structural analysis of literature. Brooks and Warren, along with Charles W. Pipkin, founded and edited The Southern Review, a leading literary journal and served as a model for others.

Brooks was the son of the Rev. Cleanth Brooks Sr., a Methodist minister, and Bessie Lee Witherspoon Brooks. After receiving a classical education at McTyeire Institute in McKenzie, Tennessee, Brooks went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where he earned a bachelor of arts degree summa cum laude in 1928.

Two significant literary movements began at Vanderbilt while Brooks was there: the Southern Agrarians and the Fugitive poets. Brooks made lifelong friendships with Warren and fellow writers John Crowe Ransom, Andrew Lytle and Donald Davidson. Brooks did graduate work at Tulane University in New Orleans and as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University’s Exeter College.

Louisiana State University hired Brooks as an English professor in 1932, and he remained there until leaving for Yale University in 1947. Brooks was on the Yale faculty until retirement in 1975, but he took leave to serve as a visiting professor at several universities, including UCLA and the University of Texas, and as culturalattaché at the U.S. Embassy in London, 1964-1966.

Brooks received two Guggenheim Fellowships and honorary degrees from many universities, including the University of Kentucky. Brooks was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Science, the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the American Philosophical Society. The National Endowment for the Humanities in 1985 chose Brooks to give the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. government’s highest honor for achievements in the humanities.

Brooks was married to Edith Amy Blanchard from 1934 until her death in 1986. He is buried in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

 

Selected bibliography

An Approach to Literature (1936)
Understanding Poetry, Written with Robert Penn Warren. (1938)
Modern Poetry and the Tradition (1939)
Understanding Fiction, Written with Robert Penn Warren. (1943)
The Well Wrought Urn (1947)
Literary Criticism: A Short History, Written with William K. Wimsatt. (1957)
William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country (1963)
A Shaping Joy: Studies in the Writer’s Craft (1971)
The Hidden God: Studies in Hemingway, Faulkner, Yeats, Eliot, and Warren (1973)
William Faulkner: Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond (1978)
William Faulkner: First Encounters (1983)
The Language of the American South (1985)
Firm Beliefs of William Faulkner (1987)
Historical Evidence and the Reading of Seventeenth Century Poetry (1991)
Community, Religion, and Literature (1995)

 

*Undated portrait. Photo courtesy of Yale University

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