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Dawn Powell: A Biography Paperback – October 15, 1999

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; 1St Edition edition (October 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805063013
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805063011
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,649,582 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

The resurrection of the great dualistic novelist Dawn Powell(1864-1965)--who chronicled both Greenwich Village cafe society (hilariously) and small-town Ohio life (poignantly)--was initially sparked by a 1987 Gore Vidal essay that led to the reissue of several Powell novels. In the 1990s, Washington Post music critic Tim Page revivified her further. Page wrote essays about Powell, penned introductions for new reprints of her titles, and, with Powell family members, hired a lawyer and sued Powell's ineffectual literary executor for the release of the writer's amazing collection of papers. From there, he edited and guided The Diaries of Dawn Powell, which assured her standing as primary wit and social chronicler of the 20th century.

But Powell still had no biography; now Page has taken care of that, too. Dawn Powell: A Biography is the first published account of her life story, as chronicled via letters, diary entries, and reminiscences from surviving relatives and friends. Apart from some sentimental, long-winded slides describing Powell's troubled Ohio youth ("the happiest moments of her childhood were those idyllic times when she was hidden away by herself, in treetops, thickets, or attic rooms, pencil in hand, observing people, places, and events and recording everything in her notebooks"), Page's tone in this book is serious, studious, and well balanced. More detective than literary critic, Page eschews literary analysis in favor of neatly organized discussions of each of her 15 novels, setting his own textual synopses against Powell's diary entries and public and private reviews of each title (her friends Edmund Wilson and John Dos Passos frequently offered unpublished critiques).

Page doesn't justify Powell's questionable decisions (marrying Joseph Gousha, a heavy alcoholic; institutionalizing her afflicted son), nor does he ignore her less admirable qualities (her own heavy drinking, her apathy towards politics and social causes). He consults doctors about the family illnesses (Powell's son Jojo was likely autistic, not retarded; Powell's belief that the tumor she suffered in her 50s was a vestigial twin is instead attributed to a rare tumor called a teratoma). He reveals her true age (a year older than she claimed). He states her likely lovers (almost certainly radical playwright John Howard Lawson, possibly writer Coburn Gilman). He tracks down a life's worth of wild freelance jobs and job offers (analyzing songs for a radio show, which she took; writing a treatment of Frank L. Baum's Wizard of Oz, which she declined). He also, slightly abashedly, refutes his own earlier published claim that she spent a portion of her later years homeless, explaining instead that facts show that she and her husband actually lived in a series of residential hotels in Manhattan during that time.

Well-balanced, to the point of being dispassionate, this biography speaks to the converted. If you're not yet a Powell fan, grab her diaries and novels first. --Jean Lenihan --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Buried in New York City's potter's field, Hart Island, Powell had just one thing in common with the other people buried there?bad luck. The substance of this meticulously researched, well-written and sympathetic portrayal of Powell's life is how this talented and ambitious young country girl from Ohio made her way to Greenwich Village in 1918 and, over a span of 47 years, became the noted author of some 15 novels and more than 100 short stories, plays, poems, diaries and articles, only to be buried in a pauper's grave. Powell was largely forgotten until 1987, when Gore Vidal wrote an article about her in the New York Review of Books that led to the rediscovery and reprinting of her books. Page, Pulitzer Prize-winning classical music critic at the Washington Post and a longtime writer on Glenn Gould, became an early and devoted literary champion and started work on this biography in 1991. The principal theme of Powell's novels reflects on her own experiences in Ohio and New York, about young provincials and worldly sophisticates, life in fleabag hotels and Park Avenue splendor, innocence and sophistication. She was witty and satirical, and wrote with an underplayed irony that was often mistaken for a lack of feeling. Powell's personal life was marked by tragedy: her 40-year marriage to a hard-drinking advertising executive was colored by her affairs and the birth of a mentally and emotionally impaired son. But throughout a restless and troubled life, Powell remained true to her art. In this first ever biography, she is well served by Page, who does a superb job establishing her right to an honored place in the pantheon of American letters. Editor, Ray Roberts; agent, Melanie Jackson.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Wagner on August 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Dawn Powell comes vividly to life in this affectionate, well-reasoned and meticulously fair biography. Tim Page has been nothing less than heroic in the service of this once-forgotten American writer -- and it seems to me that he understands her very well indeed.
I had a very different response than one earlier reader to Page's occasional admissions that he didn't know what happened at this or that point in Powell's life. It struck me as refreshingly honest. Very few biographers have the courage to confess that they aren't omniscient and that certain facts will simply get lost over the course of 100 years. And I was very glad that he didn't pad the book with all the Greenwich Village 101 stuff that you find in biographies of practically everybody who ever lived below 14th Street.
Certain people don't "get" Powell, and they probably won't get Page either. For the rest of us, this book has been, and will continue to be, a revelation.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By disco75 on August 22, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I came to Powell a few years ago via the beautifully designed Steerforth volumes sporting 40s B&W photos. Having never heard of her, I quickly moved from novel to novel, agog when her talent for characterization was successfully combined with wit. It's difficult not to be intrigued by the author of such unique observations. Somewhere between reading a third and fourth novel I devoured her selected diary entries, and between the fifth and sixth novels launched into her selected letters and the Marcelle Rice review. I was still eager to learn more about the muses and demons of this superlative author.

Having just finished this biography, I can say that Page's book can successfully take the place of the diaries, letters, and Rice review for most readers. Since the letters are comprised only of those sent, not received, by Powell, and are highlights, they go only so far as a glimpse into the soul of the woman. Page had access to much additional material and in the biography is able to quote the letters and diary entries in a fascinating context. His volume paints a multifaceted portrait of the woman. He was persistent in interviewing remaining friends and family to set the scene in a fuller way. The end result is this satisfying and moving account of an amusing, endearing, and exasperating Village resident for anyone left wanting more after reading a Powell novel.

Much miscellany lies beyond the novels and short stories in Powell's career-- book reviews, nonfiction articles, screenplays-- to occupy future dissertations and biographies. These potential projects will be welcomed annexes to a Powell depiction, but it is difficult to imagine a more human account of her life than Page's.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 8, 1999
Format: Paperback
I didn't know much about Dawn Powell before I read this book, but am now very glad I've come to know her a little, and I'm eager to read some of her novels, as well. The biography covers her life from her difficult childhood in Ohio to her many productive years in Manhattan. Along with detailing her life, the author details her work -- including how various novels came about, and how they were received. I recommend this book especially to anyone interested in the lives of writers and how they work. (The book offers some chuckles, as well, as Dawn was a very funny and quotable woman.)
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Pierce on September 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I fell in love with Dawn Powell after reading this biography! I recommend reading it highly, as well as looking into some of Powell's own works. My only complaint is the lack of photographs of Powell during her best writing (and flirting) years. After reading this book I thought about how many worth while authors are forgotten and lost to us, and how fine and generous Mr. Page has been in exhuming this wonderful woman's reputation and career for a new generation that perhaps has finally caught up with her.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mary E. Sibley VINE VOICE on September 3, 2007
Format: Paperback
Tim Page has done an excellent job of writing in this biography of an important writer who has been overlooked, ignored. Gore Vidal did boost Powell's posthumous reputation through a piece in THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, but Page, arguably, has done the major work of excavation. The book is a joy to read. The accomplishment here is similar to that of the famous contemporary English biographers Michael Holroyd and Richard Holmes.

Dawn Powell, 1896-1965, came from Ohio. She was born in Mount Gilead and attended Lake Erie College. She received an honorary degree from that college near the end of her life. In 1918, after college graduation, she moved to Pomfret, CT, to imbibe the artistic atmosphere. After Labor Day she moved to New York City permanently. She found work with the Butterick Company. Later she joined the publicity department of the Red Cross. She free lanced. She met Joseph Gousha. Joseph came to believe it was his role to foster Dawn's genius.

After the couple married, they lived separately initially, and then moved to Riverside Drive. This was a domestic period for Dawn. She kept her name Dawn Powell. Joseph Jr. was born in 1921. His nickname was JoJo. He had enormous intellectual gifts and undiagnosed autism. His behavior was bizarre. A nurse was hired who worked for the family until 1954. In financial difficulties she refused to be fired. Louise Lee's presence allowed Dawn to write again. Joe and Dawn were both heavy drinkers. They pursued their vocations and their avocations separately. They were victims of difficult circumstances and were uncomplaining.

Dawn was close to John Dos Passos and John Howard Lawson and many other writers and artists. A great deal of the time the Goushas lived in Greenwich Village.
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