Powell, Dawn


Dawn Powell was an American novelist born in 1896 in Mt. Gilead, Ohio, and she died in 1965 of colon cancer in New York. Her mother died when she was young. Her father remarried and Powell and her stepmother did not get along (as neither did her two sisters). Powell ran away to her divorced aunt’s house and this aunt encouraged her creativity and writing. She received scholarships and graduated from a woman’s college in Ohio where she wrote plays and edited the school magazine.


By 1918, she had moved to New York City and worked at a variety of companies while working on her writing in her spare time. Some of these companies were Butterick, the U.S. Navy, and the Red Cross. She married Joseph Gousha, a poet, and they had a son who was most likely autistic. Her husband went into advertising to support the family. They lived in Greenwich Village and became friends with people such as John Dos Passos, Edmund Wilson, and E. E. Cummings.

Powell wrote stories and novels set in small midwestern towns (like where she grew up). Her husband was an alcoholic and along with her son’s handicap, Powell led a stressful life and had her own troubles with alcohol and depression. However, she was a very prolific novelist and her diaries were published after she died.


–cover of one of Powell’s bestsellers

Some Dawn Powell quotes:

The basis of tragedy is man’s helplessness against disease, war and death; the basis of comedy is man’s helplessness against vanity (the vanity of love, greed, lust, power).

The human comedy is always tragic, but since its ingredients are always the same – dupe, fox, straight, like burlesque skits – the repetition through the ages is comedy.

From her novel My Home is Far Away:

What most people wanted was the happiness of having what other people wanted. Then they had brief moments of an inferior happiness when they only got what they themselves but nobody else wanted. This rather spoiled things.  Some people made mistakes in their opinion of what other people wanted, but if they didn’t  find out they managed to be happy , maybe wondering a little once in awhile what everybody wanted this for.  Others wasted so much time trying to have what other people wanted that they never knew they were perfectly happy without it. The biggest jolt in growing up was to discover that that you    didn’t like what others liked and they thought you were crazy to like what you liked.

An interesting article from Salon in 1999 can be found HERE.

Personally, I have not read any of her novels, but I have seen her name in my readings on the Lost Generation. Have you read any of her works and what do you think of her writing?

  4 comments for “Powell, Dawn

  1. April 18, 2015 at 2:44 PM

    “The happiness of what other people wanted.” Love that line. Great that her aunt encouraged her creativity. So much emotion in her life. So much to write about.

    • April 18, 2015 at 3:04 PM

      Thank goodness she had that aunt to turn to . . . I really want to read the diaries after learning about her, besides some of the books.

  2. hilarymb
    April 19, 2015 at 5:05 PM

    Hi Denise – such an interesting and difficult life .. it’s always amazing how much people achieve despite the ongoing hassles of life .. great to read about her .. cheers Hilary

    • April 20, 2015 at 3:20 PM

      It really is amazing, Hilary. And if they can do it, so can we!!

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