Zoë Akins Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Zoë Akins (AY-kihns) was an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. Her best work treated the challenges and limitations that confronted women, rooted in the social conventions and gender expectations of their day. Akins was the daughter of Thomas Jaspard Akins and Sarah Elizabeth Green. Her family moved to St. Louis, when Akins was twelve, where her father served as the city’s postmaster and as a member of the Republican National Committee. Akins demonstrated an early interest in literature, writing poems, plays, and essays while still in school.

The early promise of Akins’s work was recognized by William Marion Reedy, editor of the St. Louis Mirror. He published some of Akins’s work in his magazine and became her mentor. Determined to pursue a career as an author, Akins moved to New York in 1909. There, she began submitting poetry to various magazines, including McClure’s, at which novelist Willa Cather served as editor. Cather was not impressed by Akins’s verse but encouraged her to write for the theater. Some of Akins’s early plays, such as her comedy Papa, were produced in New York but failed to attract sustained attention. While in New York, Akins suffered a bout with tuberculosis that had lasting effects on her health. She persisted in her efforts as a playwright, however, choosing to write society dramas that focused on strongly developed woman characters. Her first play in this vein, Déclassée, starring Ethel Barrymore, became a hit, running successfully at the Empire Theatre.

Following upon the success of Déclassée, Akins wrote Daddy’s Gone a-Hunting, another successful venture. Her work through the remainder of the 1920’s was uneven, some plays faring well with audiences and critics, others,...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bradley, Jennifer. “Zoë Akins and the Age of Excess: Broadway Melodrama in the 1920’s.” In Modern American Drama, edited by June Schlueter. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990. A critique of Akins’s work in New York.

Slide, Anthony. “Zoë Akins.” In American Screenwriters, edited by Robert E. Morsberger, Stephen O. Lesser, and Randall Clark. Vol. 26 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1984. A survey and critique of Akins’s career.

Youngee, Particia Lee. “Zoë Akins.” In American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present, edited by Lisa Mainiero. New York: Ungar, 1979. An overview of Akins’s career.