Vanderbilt Fugitives, Champions of Southern Literature

Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, was the home of the “Vanderbilt Fugitives,” a group of writers who liked to write, discuss, and publish poetry around the 1920s and 1930s. They shared the belief that the South had a wealth of unrecognized intellectual literary talent. They wanted to respond to people outside of the South who were disrespectful to the writers of the region.

What’s distinct about the Fugitives is the way they connected the art of poetry with their beliefs about the world around them, and then published a collection of essays called “I’ll Take My Stand,” which is still in print.

According to “American entry into World War I temporarily dispersed the members of the group, several of whom enlisted in the military, but by 1920 the principals had reconvened at Vanderbilt. In addition to [John Crowe] Ransom, [Walter Clyde] Curry, and [Sidney M.] Hirsch, the original Fugitives included Donald Davidson, William Yandell Elliott, Stanley Johnson, and Alec B. Stevenson. After the war a number of younger undergraduates and poets from outside the Fugitive circle also began to attend meetings. Among their number were Merrill Moore, Allen Tate, Jesse Wills, and subsequently Alfred Starr and Robert Penn Warren. When she won the 1924 Nashville Poetry Prize, which the Fugitives sponsored, Laura Riding Gottschalk, then the wife of a professor of history at the University of Louisville, became an honorary member of the group.” (Laura Riding Gottschalk was later known as Laura Riding Jackson. “Gottschalk” was a pseudonym.)

Vanderbilt’s undergraduate student enrollment is approximately 10 percent of the total population of Nashville.

Where Are They Now?

You can walk around Vanderbilt and follow their footprints to Vanderbilt Library. One of the best means for school-age students to learn about the Fugitives is virtually through Nashville Public Television’s website at

More Notable Literary Vanderbilt Alumni

Additional literary Vanderbilt alumni include Cleanth Brooks, James Dickey, Ellen Gilchrist, William Inge, James Patterson, Tom Schulman, and Jesse Stuart.

Read about more places to visit connected with some of these writers here: William Inge in Kansas, Jesse Stuart in Kentucky, and Robert Penn Warren in Kentucky.

Vanderbilt is the fifth stop on our Tennessee Author Adventures Trail.

Patricia Smart