Although her fiction never achieved great popularity and her theatrical ventures failed miserably, Dawn Powell is considered by many to be not only one of the wittiest women of her time but also one of the finest writers of the early twentieth century. She was born in the small Ohio town of Mount Gilead, the second child of Hattie B. Sherman Powell, a member of a well-to-do rural family, and Roy K. Powell, a pleasant but irresponsible traveling salesman. When Dawn was six, her hardworking mother died, and the family fell apart. For several years, Powell’s father deposited his three daughters with first one unwilling relative, then another. The girls were happiest with a warmhearted aunt, Orpha May Sherman, who ran a rooming house; when Roy Powell remarried, however, they found themselves at the mercy of a nasty-tempered stepmother. For Dawn, the last straw was her stepmother’s burning of the stories she had been writing. Dawn ran away and went back to Shelby, Ohio, to live with her favorite aunt. There, she worked on a newspaper while she finished school. Winning a scholarship to Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, she continued to support herself, though she also studied hard and participated in literary and theatrical activities at the college.
After graduation, Powell went to New York. Until World War I ended, she served in the Navy auxiliary; she then found jobs first with the Red Cross, then with the Interchurch World Movement. Meanwhile, when not at a party in Greenwich Village, she was busy writing.
In 1920, Powell married a young advertising executive, Joseph R. Gousha, and they had a son the following year. It soon became clear that the child had sustained brain damage at birth and would always require care. Even though her husband was becoming increasingly successful in his profession, Powell knew that she, too, needed to make money in order to provide for their...
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