Dawn Powell Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111207105-Powell.jpg Dawn Powell Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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...

(The entire section is 779 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Dawn Powell was born in Mount Gilead, Ohio, on November 28, 1897, the daughter of Roy K. Powell, a traveling salesman, and Hattie B. Sherman Powell. For six years, after the death of her mother when Powell was six, she and her two sisters lived with various relatives on farms and in small towns. After her father’s remarriage, the girls went to live with him and their stepmother on a farm. Powell already was a dedicated writer; indeed, after her stepmother punished her by burning her stories, Powell fled to the home of an aunt. After graduating from high school, Powell went to Lake Erie College, where she received her bachelor of arts degree in 1918. That year she moved to New York to serve in the U.S. Navy auxiliary, remaining there working in public relations and in advertising.

In 1920, Powell married Joseph Roebuck Gousha, an executive with an advertising agency, with whom she had one son, Joseph Roebuck Gousha, Jr. Failing in her attempts to break into the theatrical world as a playwright, Powell began writing novels, publishing the first, Whither, in 1925. Over the next four decades, she published fifteen more novels, the early ones set in her native Ohio, most of the later ones in New York City’s Greenwich Village, in what became her world, the small circle of writers, publishers, actors, producers, artists, and critics who were at the intellectual center of the United States. Still without wide recognition, Powell died of cancer at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York City on November 14, 1965.