Murray critic inducted into state Writers Hall of Fame

The late Cleanth Brooks, a Murray-born writer and academic, was inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame during a recent ceremony in Lexington.

Since its formation in 2013, the hall has inducted 44 writers. Among its inductees are Hunter S. Thompson, Sue Grafton, Barbara Kingsolver and many others. Brooks joins fellow Purchase Area natives Bobbie Ann Mason, of Mayfield, and Paducah's Irvin Cobb as hall inductees.

Though Brooks died in 1994, his legacy lives on in his many works of literary criticism.

"He was probably one of the most prominent literary critics of the 20th century. He and Robert Penn Warren were friends and professional collaborators from the time they were in college," said Tom Eblen, the literary liaison for the Carnegie Center for Literacy & Learning, the body that oversees the Kentucky Writers hall. "Together they wrote some of the standard college textbooks for most of the century on poetry and literature."

Brooks was one of the central figures of the New Criticism movement of the midcentury, a critical practice focusing on structure and content of art and excluding the situational, biographical or historical context of the work in question. His books, "Understanding Poetry," "Understanding Fiction" and "Understanding Drama" appeared on classroom reading lists around the world as the movement became popularly accepted in the literary field.

"The Well Wrought Urn," an essay collection examining some of the most popular classical works of English poetry, is considered his most popular work and serves as the seminal text of the New Criticism movement.

The Murray writer founded The Southern Literary Review with Charles Pipkin and Warren, a fellow Kentucky native and hall member. Warren would go on to write the widely acclaimed political novel "All The King's Men."

"He was really not only a literary critic but he wrote a lot about Southern literature, having done a number of books on William Faulkner," Eblen told The Sun. "He was so closely associated with so many famous Southern writers having gone to Vanderbilt University in the 1920s with John Crowe Ransom and Robert Penn Warren and Allen Tate -- these people who really became the titans of 20th century Southern literature."

Brooks was highly celebrated during his lifetime. He taught at Louisiana State University and Yale, UCLA and the University of Texas, as well as several others. For two years, he served as cultural attaché at the U.S. Embassy in London, England. He received two Guggenheim Fellowships in addition to several honorary degrees and, in 1985, he was chosen by the National Endowment for the Humanities to give the Jefferson Lecture, the U.S. government's highest honor for achievements in the field.

Brooks' name was called during the induction ceremony along with Lucy Furman, of Henderson County; Sena Jeter Naslund, of Louisville; Sam Shepard, of Midway; and Hollis Summers, of Eminence.

Jeff Worley, the current state poet laureate, read a selection from Brooks' 1985 collection "The Language of the American South" in the author's honor.

To learn more about Brooks or the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame, visit

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