The Center for Robert Penn Warren Studies at Western Kentucky University (WKU) has named Lawrence Buell, Powell M. Cabot Professor of American Literature, the recipient of the 2003 Robert Penn Warren-Cleanth Brooks Award for Outstanding Literary Criticism. Buell will receive the award for “Emerson” (2003, Belknap Press), an assessment of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s works, at the Robert Penn Warren Symposium at WKU on April 25.
According to the jury, Buell was selected “for a book worthy of both the great philosopher he chose as his topic and of the Brooks and Warren tradition of excellence in literary criticism.” The jury added: “In an elegant, clear-speaking style, notably free of pretentious academic jargon, Dr. Buell cogently assesses Emerson’s radically original contributions to fields of thought as disparate as science, politics, religion, philosophy, literature and social action.”
The John P. Marquand Professor of English at Harvard, Buell is also the author of “The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing and the Formation of American Culture” (1996) and “Writing for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture and Environment in the United States and Beyond” (2001), both from Belknap Press.
“I am honored that my ‘Emerson’ has been chosen as this year’s recipient of the Warren-Brooks Award,” Buell said. “I also confess to being somewhat bemused and surprised,” he added, “that a book about a New England icon toward whom both Mr. Warren and Mr. Brooks felt distinctly ambivalent would be honored in their name, especially considering that only one of its seven chapters is
exclusively devoted to Emerson’s accomplishment as a creative writer. So for that particular book to be awarded this prize in particular seems deliciously ironic.” Buell added, “On the other hand, Emerson always aspired to be a poet first and foremost, and it’s no less true that Brooks and Warren were my own first and foremost instructors in the art of reading literary texts. I take the judge’s verdict as heartening evidence that Emerson did not aspire in vain, and that my early training somehow managed to stick.”
The Warren-Brooks Award was established in 1995 and is made possible by an endowment from the late Eleanor Clark Warren, the Warren Estate, and Western Kentucky University. The award is given annually to recognize an outstanding work of literary criticism that exemplifies in spirit, scope, and integrity the kind of innovative critical interpretation of literature offered by Warren and Brooks, his frequent collaborator.