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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

13. Southern Renaissance

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- William Faulkner
- Zora Neale Hurston
- Flannery O'Connor
- Katherine Anne Porter
- John Crowe Ransom
- Robert Penn Warren
- Eudora Welty
- Tennessee Williams
- Thomas Wolfe
- Richard Wright
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: John Crowe Ransom (1888-1974)

Plantation Overseer. Mississippi Delta, near Clarksdale, Mississippi
[3696] Dorothea Lange, Plantation Overseer. Mississippi Delta, near Clarksdale, Mississippi (1936), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USF34-009596-C DLC]

John Crowe Ransom Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
A leading force in southern letters from the 1920s on, John Crowe Ransom was born in Pulaski, Tennessee. Educated primarily at home in his early years by his parents, Ransom enrolled in Vanderbilt University as a young man of fifteen. Ransom's academic excellence earned him a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford University in England, after which he taught high school briefly in Connecticut before returning to Vanderbilt to begin his career as an English professor.

Ransom's first volume of poetry, Poems about God, was published in 1919. Around that same time, Ransom became the center of a small group of poets who called themselves the Fugitives after the name of the magazine they began publishing in 1922 as an outlet for their poetry. Ransom produced his best and best-known poetry in the 1920s, including "Bells for John Whiteside's Daughter," "Philomela," "Piazza Piece," "Equilibrists," and "Janet Waking." His poetry is known for its tendency to expose the ironies of existence, primarily through short lyrics about often somber or serious domestic scenes--such as the death of a child or a "lady young in beauty waiting until [her] true love comes"--into which Ransom introduces some unsettling twist.

Although Ransom is respected as an accomplished poet, he had always tended toward philosophical and theoretical pursuits and these came to dominate much of his literary output beginning in the late 1920s. Like many of his southern peers, Ransom was incensed by the "laughing stock" the national press made of the South in its coverage of the Scopes evolution trial of 1925. At the urging of Donald Davidson, Ransom joined with eleven other southern men (including several who were also members of the Fugitives) to produce I'll Take My Stand, a volume of essays that praised southern traditions and the agrarian ways of life that dominated the Old South. For the next several years, Ransom explored Agrarianism at greater depth, while at the same time he began to write critical essays that described and defended poetry which could represent reality fully and completely without retreating into untrustworthy realms of abstraction.

Ransom's critical pursuits soon led to the publication in 1938 of The World's Body, a collection of essays which laid much of the groundwork for what came to be known as New Criticism, an influential critical movement that sought to focus the critic's attention on the work of literature itself--its language and formal qualities--rather than on the historical and biographical context of the work. In that same year, two of Ransom's former students--Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren--published Understanding Poetry, which expressed many of the critical principles Ransom was advocating, and which eventually became the standard text for teaching poetry in colleges and universities throughout the nation.

Ransom left Vanderbilt for a position at Ohio's Kenyon College in 1937. Two years later he founded the Kenyon Review, an influential literary journal that he edited until his retirement from Kenyon in 1959.

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