Archival Collections
Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Dawn Powell papers, 1890s-2007 bulk 1890s-1965 

Powell, Dawn,
Phys. Desc: 
39 linear feet (73 document boxes, 4 half-sized document boxes, 6 record cartons, 2 flat boxes, 1 cassette box)
Call Number: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Biographical Note

Dawn Powell was born on November 28, 1896 in Mount Gilead, Ohio. Powell was the second of three daughters born to Roy King and Hattie (née Sherman) Powell. Hattie Powell died in 1903, and as her father often worked as a traveling salesman, Powell lived with a series of relatives after her death. Roy King Powell married Sabra Stearns in 1907, and thereafter left his daughters in their stepmother's care. After Stearns proved to be abusive, Powell ran away from home in 1910 to live with her aunt, Orpha May Sherman Steinbrueck, in Shelby, Ohio. Aunt May supported both Powell's education and her literary work. Powell went to Shelby High School, and with the financial assistance of her aunt, neighbors, and the college, went to college at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio. After graduating from Lake Erie College in 1918, Powell went to New York City, where she lived for the remainder of her life. After her arrival in the city, Powell did free-lance writing for newspapers and magazines, and worked at a series of jobs. While she was working for the Interchurch World Movement, she met Joseph R. Gousha, and they were married in November 1920. Their only child, Joseph "Jojo" R. Gousha, Jr., was born on August 22, 1921. He was severely handicapped, with what today might be diagnosed as autism. Powell ultimately wrote sixteen novels, several plays, and more than 100 short stories. She also kept extensive diaries, particularly after 1930. Whither, her first novel, was published in 1925, although Powell always referred to She Walks in Beauty (1928) as her first novel. Reviews of early novels were uneven, and they were not commercially successful. Powell published several other novels during the 1930s and 1940s, including Turn, Magic Wheel (1936), Angels on Toast (1940), A Time to be Born (1942), which was her greatest commercial success, My Home is Far Away (1944), and The Locusts Have No King (1948). Later novels included The Golden Spur (1962), which was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1963. Powell was known for her stinging social satires. Although some of her work was admired by critics, it was not commercially successful on the whole. Most of Powell's published novels and plays were out of print at the time of her death in 1965. Long after her death, an essay was written by Gore Vidal in 1987 prompted a rediscovery of her work. During the 1990s, Tim Page worked with Powell's family to free Powell's papers and copyrights from the control of her original executrix, Jacqueline Miller Rice. After this was accomplished, a biography and selections from Powell's diaries and letters were published by Tim Page, and many of her works came back into print. Powell died on November 14, 1965 in New York City, of colon cancer. She donated her body to Cornell Medical Center for medical research, and was eventually buried at Hart's Island after her executrix, Jacqueline Miller Rice, declined to claim her remains five years later.

Scope and Contents

Dawn Powell (1896-1965) was an American author of novels, plays, and short stories. The collection includes address books, appointment books, books, clippings, correspondence, diaries, ephemera, family materials, manuscripts, notes, notebooks, photographs, programs, research files, reviews, scrapbooks, sketches and drawings. Dawn Powell (1896-1965) was an American author of novels, plays, and short stories. The collection includes address books, appointment books, artwork, books, clippings, correspondence, diaries, ephemera, family materials, manuscripts, notes, notebooks, photographs, programs, research files, reviews, and scrapbooks. The collection contains a great deal of correspondence, but it is scattered throughout the collection. Series I: Cataloged Correspondence was processed and arranged in the 1990s at the item level, with personal, family, and professional correspondence being arranged by name and then by date. Other correspondence was processed and arranged at the file level, and is filed in Series II: Arranged Correspondence and Series IX: Family Materials. There are also files in Series IV and Series X that include correspondence. The papers include many manuscripts and typescripts of Powell's published and unpublished works. These materials can be found in Series III: Manuscripts and Related Materials. Where it is known that a work has multiple titles, these are noted in the finding aid, but these notes are not exhaustive, particularly for short stories. Series III also include copies of published plays and clippings of published articles, plays, reviews, and short stories. The collection also includes copies of many of Powell's published novels and these can be found in Series VII: Books. Powell's professional files in Series IV: Professional Files include general clippings files and subject files. These include articles on Powell, contracts, correspondence, financial information, programs, remarks, and reviews of Powell's books and plays. Most subject files are related to specific projects or works. Files kept by Powell's executrix, Jacqueline Miller Rice, are also filed in Series IV, and include correspondence, financial, and legal records related to her handling of the estate from the 1960s-1990s. The collection also includes a large amount of photographs, primarily personal and professional photographs of Powell, her family, and places of residence in both New York and Ohio. Powell's personal files are also included in the collection, and include address books, appointment books, clippings on various subjects, diaries, various notes and notebooks, personal documents, school records, sketches and drawings, and travel records. There are also materials related to her family, including clippings, correspondence, journals, obituaries, photographs, school magazines, theater scrapbooks, and wills. A few miscellaneous files are filed in Series X as chronological files. The materials in these files are loosely related by time period, but not to any particular personal or professional subject. The provenance of this collection made the arrangement of the material difficult during processing. Powell's papers were left to an executrix, Jacqueline Miller Rice, after Powell's death in 1965. The papers largely came under the control of Tim Page in the 1990s, although some boxes of additional material were received after Rice's death in 2004. It is unclear how Powell filed and maintained her papers at this point: some material was clearly rearranged by others while other material was highly disorganized and required arrangement by the processing archivist. The source of any identifying notes and labels was unclear at the time of processing. Lastly, portions of the collection were deposited and then either donated or sold to Columbia University in several different tax years during the period of 1995-2014, and this affected how the papers were organized, processed, and maintained by the Library until processing of all collection materials was completed in 2019. Another consequence of this history is that the collection includes correspondence and other records that date from well after Powell's death. These records were created and maintained primarily by Tim Page, Jacqueline Miller Rice, John Sherman, and by Powell's son, Jojo. Both Rice and Sherman generated and maintained files related to Powell's estate well into the 1990s, as Rice was Powell's executrix, and Sherman became Jojo's guardian after Powell's death. Jojo wrote to both Rice and Sherman throughout his life, and that correspondence is included in this collection, as well as his journal recording his memories of his mother, Dawn Powell. Lastly, correspondence, research files, and other records created by Tim Page in the course of his research work and the publication of his books on Powell are also included in this collection.