A Brief Guide to the Fugitives

Year

2004

The Fugitive was a literary magazine of poetry and criticism published at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, from 1922 until 1925. Both faculty and students, including John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, among others, contributed to this publication. They were practitioners and defenders of formal techniques in poetry and were preoccupied with defending the traditional values of the agrarian South against the effects of urban industrialization.

According to critic J.A. Bryant, the group's goal as "the Fugitive poets" was simply "to demonstrate that a group of southerners could produce important work in the medium, devoid of sentimentality and carefully crafted," with special attention to the traditional prosodic techniques of meter, stanza, and rhyme. One member, John Crowe Ransom, had an enormous influence on an entire generation of poets and fellow academics, who subscribed to the doctrines he described in The New Criticism (1941), which restricted literary analysis to the text itself, rather than the cultural and historical context from which the text emerged.

Some of the Fugitive poets went on to form a second group, the Agrarians, whose 1930 manifesto of essays, I'll Take My Stand, remains a controversial document in the development of Southern literature. The thesis of many of the anthology’s essays--a rejection of industrialism for the agrarian way of life--was undermined by some of the contributors' unquestioning embrace of the South's past, "a past whose legacy included segregation and white supremacy" (Paul V. Murphy, The Rebuke of History). Other contributors, like Robert Penn Warren, rejected segregation in favor of constructing a more humane and just New South.

For further reading, visit the Fugitives and Agrarians exhibit from the Vanderbilt University Library Archives, which features biographical sketches and photographs of members of the Fugitives, and The Southern Renaissance Unit of American Passages, a literary curriculum produced by the Annenberg Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.