Owen Dodson Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

During Owen Dodson’s undergraduate years at Bates College, his poetry appeared in such publications as Opportunity, New Masses, and the New York Herald Tribune. Over the decades, numerous periodicals and anthologies have published his verse. His three volumes of verse are Powerful Long Ladder (1946), which includes excerpts from his Divine Comedy verse play; The Confession Stone (1968), which was revised and enlarged as The Confession Stone: Song Cycles (1970); and The Harlem Book of the Dead (1978), which features Dodson’s poetry and James Van Der Zee’s photographs.

Dodson also wrote two novels. Boy at the Window (1951) is an autobiographical novel about Coin Foreman, a nine-year-old Brooklyn boy. When the novel was published in paperback in 1967, the title was changed to When Trees Were Green. In his second novel, Come Home Early, Child (1977), Foreman is now an adult. Although his novels received favorable commentary from critics, his poetry and drama earned him greater acclaim.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Owen Dodson’s writing talents garnered diverse honors. He was the recipient of various writing grants including the General Education Board (1937), Rosenwald Fellowship (1943), Guggenheim Fellowship (1953), and Rockefeller (1968). In 1942 The Garden of Time earned Stanford University’s Maxwell Anderson Verse Drama Award (second prize). In 1956 “The Summer Fire,” the first chapter from Come Home Early, Child, placed second in the Paris Review’s 1956 short-story contest and was included in Best Short Stories from the Paris Review (1959). Bates College bestowed additional honors on its distinguished alumnus; he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1951 and was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters in 1967. Dodson also received an honorary doctorate from Missouri’s Lincoln University in 1978.

Paying tribute to Dodson’s literary legacy, Glenda Dickerson and Mike Malone created Owen’s Song, a collage of his plays and poems. Owen’s Song was performed in 1974 at the Last Colony Theater, Washington, D.C.; the Harlem Cultural Center, New York; and the Eisenhower Theater in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, D.C. One year later, Dodson received the New York Black Theater Alliance’s AUDELCO (Audience Development Company) Outstanding Pioneer Award in recognition of his contributions to the growth and development of African American theater.

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Owen Dodson’s contribution to the theater is significant, from his first involvement at Bates College in 1933 to his work on a production of his own play, Till Victory Is Won (first produced in 1965), by the Carnegie Hall Opera Ebony four months before his death in 1983. He published or produced eight plays between 1935 and 1965. Dodson wrote two autobiographical novels, Boy at the Window (1951), reprinted as When Trees Were Green (1967), and Come Home Early, Child (1977). In addition, he wrote short fiction, published in various anthologies, as well as a screenplay and radioplays.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Although poetry was Owen Dodson’s first love, his need for drama led him to writing plays, but they were poetic drama. Throughout his time at Yale, he attempted to devote himself totally to drama, but continued to write poetry. The impact of his first collection of poetry, Powerful Long Ladder, was such that his peers and seniors assimilated him into the canon of standard African American poetry; his poems appeared in principal black poetry anthologies of the 1950’s, although he had stopped writing poetry.

While at Yale, Dodson was awarded a stipend of $3,200 from the Rockefeller General Board for his expressed interest in “forming a Negro Theater where Negroes may have plays presented.” With this end in mind, Dodson wrote numerous plays. In 1943, following his service in the U.S. Navy, he received a Rosenwald Fellowship to write plays for an African American theater, but failed to fulfill his obligation. In 1952, after finishing Boy at the Window, Dodson, with the help of poet W. H. Auden, secured a Guggenheim Fellowship “for creative activity in the field of fiction,” in the amount of $3,500.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Carbado, Devon W., Dwight A. McBride, and Donald Weise, eds. Black Like Us: A Century of Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual African American Fiction. San Francisco: Cleis Press, 2002. A chapter is devoted to Dodson. Places him in the context of gay and African American fiction.

Dodson, Owen. Interview. In Interviews with Black Writers, edited by John O’Brien. New York: Liveright, 1973. Presents a seven-page interview with Dodson.

Hardy, Sallee W., ed. Remembering Owen Dodson. New York: Hatch-Billops Collection, 1984. A useful though somewhat dated resource. Updated by Hatch biography.

Hatch, James V. “Owen Dodson.” In Afro-American Writers, 1940-1955, edited by Trudier Harris. Vol. 76 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988. A good introductory overview of Dodson’s life and career.

Hatch, James V. Sorrow Is the Only Faithful One: The Life of Owen Dodson. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994. An excellent critical biography of Owen Dodson, which is thorough and insightful.

Hatch, James V., and Omanii Abdullah. Black Playwrights, 1823-1977: An Annotated Bibliography of Plays. New York: Bowker, 1977. Includes bibliographical information on Dodson.

Peterson, Bernard L., Jr. Contemporary Black American Playwrights and Their Plays: A Biographical Directory and Dramatic Index. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988. Contains production information for Dodson’s plays written, produced, or published after 1950.

Peterson, Bernard L., Jr. “The Legendary Owen Dodson of Howard University: His Contributions to the American Theatre.” The Crisis 86 (1979): 373-378. Contains biographical and critical commentary. Speculates that Dodson’s greatest literary legacy will be his drama rather than his poems

Peterson, Bernard L., Jr. “Owen Dodson.” Early Black American Playwrights and Dramatic Writers: A Biographical Directory and Catalog of Plays, Films, and Broadcasting Scripts. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1990. Contains a brief biographical entry. Categorizes and provides production information for Dodson’s plays written, produced or published before 1950.