John Orley Allen Tate was born in Winchester, Kentucky, the third son of John Orley and Eleanor Varnell Tate. His early life foreshadowed the gypsy-like wanderings of his later years; because of his father’s various business interests, the family moved frequently. These moves resulted in Tate’s rather sketchy education. As a teenager, he wrote a few poems, but his real love was music. He studied the violin under excellent teachers at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music but left when his teachers concluded that, while he had some talent, he had no exceptional gift for music.
Tate, his musical ambitions thwarted, was accepted at Vanderbilt University and entered in 1918. He had no particular interest in literature when his college career began. He was, however, strongly influenced by some of his teachers, especially Walter Clyde Curry. The medieval and Renaissance scholar lent him books, encouraged him to write poetry, and introduced him to John Crowe Ransom, with whom he later studied. Under the influence of these two gifted teachers, Tate joined Vanderbilt’s Calumet Club, a literary society whose membership also included Donald Davidson. Davidson invited Tate to participate in a discussion group that evolved into the Fugitives. Tate was an eager participant in this group of teachers and students and contributed many poems to its literary journal, The Fugitive. He graduated from Vanderbilt in 1923 after having taken a year off from his...
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