While such contemporaries as Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos considered Dawn Powell one of the finest writers of their time, she never attained their popularity. Shortly before her death in 1965, Powell was honored with an honorary doctorate and an award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, but despite occasional attempts by her admirers, such as Edmund Wilson, to call attention to her achievements, she remained relatively obscure, and her sixteen novels, all out of print, were difficult to find. Fortunately, in the next two decades, there was a revolution in the American sensibility. One of the results of the feminist movement was that critics and publishers had to admit sins of omission; they had minimized the talent of many fine women writers simply because they were women. Powell, who has been called an American equivalent to English satiric novelists such as Evelyn Waugh and Anthony Powell, is an obvious example.
In 1987, author and critic Gore Vidal launched the campaign to obtain proper recognition for Powell. In a lengthy essay published in The New York Review of Books, he traced her life and her literary career and concluded by bemoaning the fact that the novels of the person he considered America’s best comic novelist were all out of print. As a result of his article, several of her later books were reprinted, all with Vidal’s essay as an introduction, and the reviews that followed suggest that Powell may at last receive the recognition denied her during her lifetime.