Dawn Powell a biography by Tim Page

I first heard of author Dawn Powell while watching Gilmore Girls (the show I’m obsessed with) when Rory remarks to Lane that no one has heard of Powell but she supposedly was responsible for a lot of Dorothy Parker’s funny lines (I am also going to read about Dorothy Parker). I first bought Powell’s published diaries (first edition and signed by the editor), but I was lost because I did not know who or what she was referring to. So I bought a first edition of her biography by Tim Page, who also edited her published diaries. And there was nothing in this biography that indicated Powell wrote for Parker. In fact, they were sort of rivals with the same initials. They were polite in public, but Powell thought Parker was overrated and did not deserve the praise she got. But it was true that no one has really heard of Dawn Powell because her work, which included 16 novels, 9 plays and many short stories and essays, didn’t really resurface again until the late 1990s.

Dawn Powell was born in Ohio just before the turn of the century. After her mother died and her father remarried her abusive step mother who he left to care for his daughters while he was on the road working, Powell ran away from home to her aunt’s house. She attended Lake Erie College and moved to New York City after graduation. Soon after, Powell met and married her husband Joseph Gousha in 1920. They were both big drinkers and pretty much had an open marriage, but stayed together and were in love until they both died in 1965. They had one child who was mentally disabled and spent most of his life in and out of institutions. Toward the end of her life, Powell was broke and living with friends with all her belongings in storage. Her family had no idea of Powell’s hard luck until over 30 years later when they read about it in her published diaries long after her death. While Powell wanted to donate her body to science, and her family wanted her buried in Ohio and her friends wanted her buried in New York City, Dawn Powell’s remains were buried in an unmarked grave on Hart Island in 1970, five years after her death.

Along with her personal life, this biography contained a lot about Powell’s writings – what they were about, how they came about and how they were received when first published. I understand that is what makes a balanced biography, but I would rather just read about her personal life. Ironically, the day I am posting this review of Dawn Powell a biography by Tim Page is the anniversary of her death on November 14, 1965.

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