Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Teaching the American Twenties: Exploring the Decade through Literature and Art

Regionalism: Reacting to the Modern


Introduction New Mexico
Southern Agrarians  

Southern Agrarians

A particularly passionate circle of regionalists formed in the South in the 1920s. The group of "Southern Agrarians" had its origins among students and faculty at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and included Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and Donald Davidson. Important poets and critics, they interacted with and embraced more cosmopolitan artists like T. S. Eliot, whose bleak depictions of modern existence reflected their own perspectives. They believed it was necessary to challenge the ideology of "progress" that accompanied the rise of urban centers and factory labor in the early century, and sought an alternative by rejuvenating plain, traditional agrarian experience.

I'll Take My Stand

This group of academics, often called "The Fugitives" after their little magazine of the same name, wished to regain and maintain contact with distinctive southern traditions as the forces of nationwide industrialization and mass culture threatened to sweep them away. They sought to recover the simplicity of an agrarian economy, not the power structures of slavery. But many found that their alternate vision, as with most utopias, was an idealized one.

In the late Twenties, the Agrarians, who adopted the group name of "Twelve Southerners," worked together to write their manifesto, which was published in 1930 as I'll Take My Stand. It served as both a political and cultural manifesto for the Agrarians. In it, they condemned the industrialization and capitalism that many saw as the struggling South's salvation and defended many southern traditions and ways of life.

Genteel Revolutionaries

Agrarian Andrew Lytle made an especially vivid call-to-arms for the preservation of regional culture in his contribution to I'll Take My Stand when he called for southerners to "Throw out the radio and take down the fiddle from the wall."

This desire to recover a pure local aesthetic in the face of mass culture was connected to the earlier Fugitive effort to produce important poetic innovations. In search of a concrete, formal language to combat hollow modern experience, the Fugitive poets wrote poems and poetry criticism that was highly influential upon other modern poets. Seeking a new role for tradition, both poetic and cultural, in the modern world, the southern regionalists made an important mark on modern American identity.

Cover of <em>Fugitives: an anthology of verse</em>
Cover of Fugitives: an anthology of verse

This 1924 volume of poetry, edited by Donald Davidson, featured the works of a group of southern writers who called themselves the "Fugitive poets." The Fugitives would later evolve into the group of "Twelve Southerners" who produced the agrarian manife...

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