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Westminster English Professor Becomes

Posted on Monday, August 22, 2005

Dr. James Perkins, professor of English and chair of the Department of English and Public Relations at Westminster College, was recently named a "Kentucky Colonel" by Governor Ernie Fletcher.

 "Five years ago, I began asking 'What are the plans for Robert Penn Warren's 100th birthday,'" Perkins said.  "No one wanted to hear that question then, but they were happy to name me 'Special Program Chair for the Centenary" so I formed an advisory board.  The chief thing most folks wanted was a United States postage stamp issued to honor Warren."

 After reading the criteria and finding that Warren met them, Perkins wrote a letter to the Citizens Stamp Advisory Commission outlining Warren's qualifications and requesting a stamp be issued in his honor.

 "They answered my letter saying that they would take the matter under advisement and assuring me that my part in the process was over, indicating I should wait patiently for their decision," Perkins said.  "But I teach public relations and like to flash my skills from time to time.  So with the help of a number of students, especially Eleanor Ludwig Milarski (a 2002 Westminster graduate from Pittsburgh) and Jon McKay (a 2002 Westminster graduate from Butler), I wrote letters to the senators and representatives of every state Warren lived in and to the presidents of every college he attended or taught in to ask for their support of the effort to get a stamp for Warren."

 In Warren's hometown of Guthrie, Ky., the United States Postal Service introduced the 37-cent Robert Penn Warren commemorative stamp before a crowd of about three thousand, including Warren's son and daughter.

 "In appreciation of the efforts of the members of the advisory board, The Center for Robert Penn Warren Studies asked the governor of Kentucky to commission us Kentucky Colonels," Perkins said.  "As a native of Kentucky, I prize this award more highly than does the retired Air Force Colonel from Texas whom we now call Colonel Colonel."

 Perkins has been researching Warren's life and works for a number of years and has been published numerous times.

 In 2005 Perkins wrote "The Cass Mastern Material: The Core of Robert Penn Warren's 'All the King's Men,'" which was published by the Louisiana State University Press in March 2005.

 "The most interesting thing that I got out of this book is a new interpretation of Warren's 'All the King's Men,'" Perkins said.  "My research shows that the basic plot of the book has been misunderstood by critics for more than 50 years.  Using genetic evidence derived from the descriptions of the major characters [Dr.] Patrick McCarthy (professor of biology at Westminster College) and I were able to eliminate Judge Irwin as Jack's Burden's father.  It took me 10 years to write this book -- five to do the research and five to figure out what the research meant."

In 2000, he co-edited, along with James A. Grimshaw, Jr. "Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men: Three Stage Versions." More recently he collaborated with Patrick McCarthy and Frank D. Allen, Jr. in writing "Human Genetics and All the King's Men; The Case of Jack Burden's Paternity" for Mississippi Quarterly. This volume is his first solo flight in book-length criticism.

 Perkins, who has been with Westminster College since 1973, is also the chair of Westminster's Department of English and Public Relations.  He earned his undergraduate degree from Centre College, his master's from Miami University, and his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee.  During the fall term of 1998, he was a Fulbright Visiting Professor at Seoul National University in Korea.  He has also been honored as a Henderson Lecturer and McCandless Fellow.  His publication also include three chapbooks of poetry; "For the Record: a Robert Drake Reader, a collection edited with Randy Hendricks; "Snakes, Butterbeans, and the Discovery of Electricity," a collection of short stories; and "Southern Writers at Centuries End," a collection of essays co-edited with Jeffrey Folks.

 Contact Perkins at (724) 946-7347 or e-mail for more information.


Dr. James Perkins