Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > Literature > 221. Dawn Powell

221.  Dawn Powell (1896-1965).  Charts & Casts & Notes for Golden Spur. Autograph manuscript, on folder paper, March 1958. RBML, Dawn Powell Papers

The Rare Book and Manuscript Library is the principle repository of the papers of novelist and playwright Dawn Powell, the gift of Elizabeth T. Page and the ongoing gift of Tim Page. Among the papers are drafts and working notes for her novel The Golden Spur. These include this chart that she began in March, 1958, showing how she kept track of characters, places, spots and episodes for the work, such as: "Cassie Bender, gallery. Would have had a tea-room in another age," and under "Spots:" "Hotel Le Grand. Golden Spur Cafe. Supermarket. Wash. Sq. Park."

Born in Mount Gilead, Ohio in 1896, Dawn Powell ran away from an abusive stepmother when she was thirteen and settled with her unconventional aunt in nearby Shelby, Ohio. "Auntie May," a divorcée, owned a home near the railroad depot, made lively by Powell's cousins, Auntie's lover, and passing strangers who stopped for meals. Encouraged by her aunt to further her education, Powell begged a scholarship to Lake Erie College for Women. There she wrote and performed in plays and edited the Lake Erie Record, a campus quarterly, which often contained her playful yet pessimistic stories. In 1918, Powell moved to New York City. She married Joseph Gousha, Jr., a Pennsylvania-born poet turned ad man, and the couple had a son, Jojo. They settled in Greenwich Village. Powell loved her bohemian neighborhood and the Manhattan nightlife that she spent alongside friends John Dos Passos, Edmund Wilson, E. E. Cummings, and others from the literary scene.

Powell set her fiction in the small Ohio towns of her youth and later, most successfully, in familiar New York neighborhoods and cafés. Though dogged by Gousha's drinking, Jojo's probable autism, financial strain, and her own struggles with alcohol, illness, and depression, Dawn Powell managed to write sixteen novels, nine plays, and numerous short stories and reviews. She died in 1965. Powell's wicked sense of humor, keen ear for dialogue and human sense of pathos pervade her barbed, shrewd fiction about mid-century Americans in Manhattan and Ohio. Her remarkable diaries, published in 1995, were hailed by the New York Times as "one of the outstanding literary finds of the last quarter century." Columbia University's holdings include her personal and professional correspondence, drafts of her plays and novels and her diaries.

Gift of Tim Page, 2002

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