James Hatch’s title suggests the sensitivity and compassion of his biography of Owen V. Dodson, a black American playwright, theater director, poet, and novelist born in 1914. From 1948 until his retirement in 1970, Dodson was a respected professor of drama at Howard University. Hatch, a professor of English at the City College of New York, knew Dodson and had full access to his papers.
This book combines meticulous research with a splendid prose style that makes SORROW IS THE ONLY FAITHFUL ONE a pleasure to read. In a typically perceptive comment, Hatch observes that “Owen hid his sensitivity behind the fable of perfect parents, but in his art one hears his muffled rage.” Dodson’s mother died when he was eleven, his father the following year. Even before these losses, the adolescent Dodson knew death intimately: he experienced the death of his brother, Harold, in 1919 and of his sister, Evelyn, in 1925. He also knew that twin siblings had died a decade before he was born. Hatch shows how death pervades Dodson’s writing and how, experiencing it during his formative years, it influenced the course of his life and art.
This biography sets a standard for excellence in its genre. It is forthright yet never gossipy or vindictive. Hatch admires his subject, yet never allows admiration to overshadow objectivity. Dodson emerges as the warm, talented, complex, rounded character that he was in life. Hatch deals frankly and tastefully with the alcoholism and homosexuality that are basic to an understanding of Owen Dodson and his writing.
Sources for Further Study
American Theatre. X, December, 1993, p.60.
American Visions. VIII, October, 1993, p.34.
Kirkus Reviews. LXI, June 15, 1993, p.767.
Library Journal. CXVIII, June 1, 1993, p.122.
The Virginia Quarterly Review. LXX, Winter, 1994, p. SS18.