About 1920, a group consisting of some influential teachers of literature at Vanderbilt, a few "townies" and some students, began meeting on alternate Saturday nights at the home of James M. Frank and Sydney Hirsch on Whitland Avenue in Nashville. They met as a poetry workshop with no formal connection with the university. After a couple of years, Hirsch felt their poetry was good enough to publish. According to author Louise Cowan, "...half-seriously Alec Stevenson suggested as a title "The Fugitive" after a poem of Hirsch's which had been read and discussed at an earlier meeting." Allen Tate stated, "...a Fugitive was quite simply a Poet: the Wanderer, or even the Wandering Jew, the Outcast, the man who carries the secret wisdom around the world". They published a small literary magazine, The Fugitive (1922–1925), which showcased their works using noms de plume at first. Although its publication history was brief, The Fugitive is considered to be one of the most influential journals in the history of American letters. The Fugitives made Vanderbilt a fountainhead of New Criticism, the dominant mode of textual analysis in English during the first half of the twentieth century.
The group was noted for the number of its members whose works were recognized with a permanent place in the literary canon. Among the most notable Fugitives were John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, Merrill Moore, Donald Davidson, William Ridley Wills, and Robert Penn Warren. Other members include Sidney Mttron Hirsch, Stanley P. Johnson, James M. Frank, Jesse Ely Wills, Walter Clyde Curry, Alec B. Stevenson, William Yandell Elliott and William Frierson.
In "The Briar Patch", Robert Penn Warren provided a look at the life of an exploited black in urban America. "The Briar Patch" was a defense both of segregation, and of the doctrine of "separate but equal," enshrined by Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). Less closely associated with the Fugitives were the critic Cleanth Brooks and the poet Laura Riding.
The Fugitives partly overlapped with a later group, also associated with Vanderbilt, called the Agrarians. Some of their members were part of the latter group.
- "Fugitives Add to Literary Honors Of Tennessee". Special Feature Section (Vol. 15, No. 17). May 27, 1923. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
- Cowan, Louise. "The Fugitive Group: A Literary History". archive.org. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. p. 44. Retrieved September 4, 2019.
- The Fugitives and Agrarians, Vanderbilt University.
- Polsgrove, Carol (2001). Divided Minds: Intellectuals and the Civil Rights Movement. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-02013-7. Retrieved September 11, 2011.
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