Born: August 24, 1896
Died: November 15, 1965
Ohio connection: Birth
Dawn Powell, daughter of Roy K. and Hattie B. (Sherman) Powell, was born in 1896 (or 1897 as Powell would oftentimes say) in Mount Gilead, Ohio. Because her father was a traveling salesman and her mother died when Dawn was six years old, she was raised mostly by relatives in different parts of the Midwest until her father remarried. He eventually deserted the family and left her and her two sisters with an abusive stepmother who treated her with extreme cruelty, burning the personal diaries and stories she had written. At age thirteen, she ran away from home, eventually moving in with a maternal aunt in Shelby, Ohio. Her aunt was considered to be eccentric and something of a social misfit, but she proved to be an affirming presence in Dawn’s life. While there, she went to school, wrote for the college newspaper, and participated in the theater. She graduated with a B.A. degree from Lake Erie College in 1918. After graduation, she briefly lived on a farm in Connecticut, where she became involved in the women’s suffrage movement. In September of that year, she moved to New York City, where she would live the rest of her life. She held a variety of jobs, including a position with the Red Cross. In 1920, she married Joseph Roebuck Gousha, with whom she would have one child, Joseph, Jr. Coping with her husband`s alcoholism and her son`s serious medical problems, Powell found sanctuary in her writing. She wrote sixteen novels, beginning with Wither (1925), her first published novel. She was unhappy with the book, however, and soon disavowed it. Her second book, She Walks in Beauty, met with some critical acclaim, and was much more in keeping with the style she would develop as her writing career progressed. Her books were largely based on her own life in New York City and Greenwich Village. With humor as well as satire, she often criticized the very life she lived – the life of plays, parties, drinking, and affairs. Some of her novels include The Bride`s House, Dance Night, The Tenth Moon, The Story of a Country Boy, The Happy Island, and Turn, Magic Wheel. Her later novels, such as The Locusts Have No King, The Wicked Pavilion and The Golden Spur (which was nominated for a National Book Award in 1963), depict what Powell saw as the demise of New York cafe society. Though her books never gained great popularity during her lifetime, there has been renewed interest in her writings as time has passed. Dawn Powell died of cancer in New York November 15, 1965.
D.Litt., Lake Erie College, 1960; Marjorie Peabody award, National Institute of Arts and Letters, 1964.