The Rare Book and Manuscript Library is the principle repository of the
papers of novelist and playwright Dawn Powell, the gift of Elizabeth T. Page and
the ongoing gift of Tim Page. Among the papers are drafts and working notes for
her novel The Golden Spur. These include this chart that she began in
March, 1958, showing how she kept track of characters, places, spots and
episodes for the work, such as: "Cassie Bender, gallery. Would have had a
tea-room in another age," and under "Spots:" "Hotel Le Grand. Golden Spur Cafe.
Supermarket. Wash. Sq. Park."
Born in Mount Gilead, Ohio in 1896, Dawn Powell ran away from an abusive
stepmother when she was thirteen and settled with her unconventional aunt in
nearby Shelby, Ohio. "Auntie May," a divorcée, owned a home near the railroad
depot, made lively by Powell's cousins, Auntie's lover, and passing strangers
who stopped for meals. Encouraged by her aunt to further her education, Powell
begged a scholarship to Lake Erie College for Women. There she wrote and
performed in plays and edited the Lake Erie Record, a campus quarterly,
which often contained her playful yet pessimistic stories. In 1918, Powell moved
to New York City. She married Joseph Gousha, Jr., a Pennsylvania-born poet
turned ad man, and the couple had a son, Jojo. They settled in Greenwich
Village. Powell loved her bohemian neighborhood and the Manhattan nightlife that
she spent alongside friends John Dos Passos, Edmund Wilson, E. E. Cummings, and
others from the literary scene.
Powell set her fiction in the small Ohio towns of her youth and later, most
successfully, in familiar New York neighborhoods and cafés. Though dogged by
Gousha's drinking, Jojo's probable autism, financial strain, and her own
struggles with alcohol, illness, and depression, Dawn Powell managed to write
sixteen novels, nine plays, and numerous short stories and reviews. She died in
1965. Powell's wicked sense of humor, keen ear for dialogue and human sense of
pathos pervade her barbed, shrewd fiction about mid-century Americans in
Manhattan and Ohio. Her remarkable diaries, published in 1995, were hailed by
the New York Times as "one of the outstanding literary finds of the last quarter
century." Columbia University's holdings include her personal and professional
correspondence, drafts of her plays and novels and her diaries.