Owen Dodson Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Owen Vincent Dodson, the grandson of former slaves and the ninth child of Nathaniel and Sarah Dodson, was born on November 28, 1914, in Brooklyn, New York. His father was a syndicated columnist and director of the National Negro Press. Before Owen’s thirteenth birthday, death claimed four siblings and both parents; as a result, Owen and the other Dodson children lived with their older sister Lillian, an elementary school teacher. Dodson graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1932, earned a B.A. from Bates College in 1936 and a M.F.A. degree from the Yale School of Fine Arts, School of Drama in 1939.

At Bates, Dodson’s passion for poetry and drama was evident. In response to his criticism of a sonnet by John Keats, his professor directed him to write sonnets himself, which Dodson did at the rate of four sonnets a week during his undergraduate years. This output enabled him to become a published poet while still an undergraduate. Also at Bates, he wrote and directed plays, and during his senior year, he staged The Trojan Women.

At Yale, two of Dodson’s best known plays, Divine Comedy and The Garden of Time, were first produced. Dodson, recognized as a promising poet, soon gained attention as an up and coming dramatist. Talladega College commissioned him to write a play Amistad, commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the slave-ship mutiny led by Joseph Cinque.

After Dodson received his graduate degree from Yale, he began his career as an educator. He was employed by Spelman College and later at Hampton University. Dodson was one of the founders of...

(The entire section is 668 words.)


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Owen Vincent Dodson was the ninth and last child born to Sarah Goode Dodson and Nathaniel Dodson on November 28, 1914, in Brooklyn, New York. Dodson’s father, a journalist, member of the American Press Association, and editor of the Negro News Service, exerted enormous influence on his son through his literary associations. Dodson’s mother died when he was eleven, and his father died the following year, so Dodson was raised by Lillian Dodson, his oldest sibling. She moved the family near Thomas Jefferson High School, which Dodson attended from 1928 to 1932.

In high school, Dodson achieved excellence in poetry reading and won various prizes in elocution. He wrote poems mostly dealing with the deaths of members of his family. Befriended by the well-known Folger family, owners of Standard Oil, Dodson and his brother Kenneth helped matriarch Mary Wells with family dinners and babysitting, and, in return, were allowed to accompany her to musical programs, motion pictures, lectures, and plays—all encouraging Dodson’s love of theater. He graduated from high school with a B average, with As in elocution, and received a scholarship for Bates College in Lewiston, Maine.

As a freshman at Bates, while studying John Keats’s poetry, Dodson boasted to his professor that he could write a sonnet as good as one of Keats. His professor commanded him to each week submit a sonnet he had written until either he could surpass Keats or he graduated. At...

(The entire section is 499 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

African American dramatist, poet, and novelist Owen Dodson was born into a poor but intellectually stimulating family in Brooklyn, New York, in 1914. Raised in a multiethnic neighborhood with a mix of Jews, Italians, Germans, Dutch people, eastern Europeans, and Scandinavians, Dodson experienced little racial discrimination as he was growing up. Dodson’s father was Nathaniel Dodson, a freelance journalist for the black press and director of the National Negro Press Association. As a boy, Dodson grew accustomed to meeting the black luminaries his father often brought home for meals: James Weldon Johnson, Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois.

Dodson also fell under the spell of Elias Lieberman, principal of Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, which Dodson attended. Lieberman, an accomplished poet, encouraged the youth’s gift for writing. By the time he entered high school, Dodson had lost both his parents and was being raised and supported by his schoolteacher sister, Lillian, who sacrificed her personal life to care for her orphaned siblings.

A scholarship attained largely through Lieberman’s efforts enabled Dodson to scuttle his plans to attend the tuition-free City College of New York and go instead to Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, from which he received his bachelor’s degree in English in 1936. Upon graduation, he won a fellowship to the Yale University School of Drama, from which he received a master’s degree in 1939.

While Dodson was still an undergraduate, two of his plays were produced. Deep in Your Heart was performed at Bates College in 1935 and Including Laughter at Brooklyn College in 1936. It was not until 1938, however, that his first major production, Divine Comedy, a play about evangelist Father...

(The entire section is 734 words.)