Dawn Powell: In Her Own Words
Miss Powell was born in Mt. Gilead, Ohio, and lived in quiet little villages, railroad towns, factory towns, and berry farms near Cleveland. At 16, she became a reporter on the Shelby Daily Glove at $3.00 a week, and shortly after that, she says, “I saved $25 and went to Lake Erie College, Painesville, an ultra school for girls. It seems that it cost more than that when I got there, but they couldn’t send me home because there wasn’t any, so I remained typing in the registrar’s office. Now I’m graduated. It’s the last year of the war. The movies are still in their infancy; Lindberg is a little boy who won’t go on errands. Fannie Ward is having her face lifted for the twentieth time, and hairdressers all over the country predict that bobbed hair is a fad and will not last. All the other girls I know are going to be farmerettes on the old college campus. A lady offers a ticket to a farm in Connecticut to one lone farmerette, so I take it and hoe potatoes in a very arty colony all summer so I will be near New York for autumn.
“In four days I had a job at the Butterick Company, but I wanted to go away to war and I entered the Naval Reserve. In three weeks I ended the war, but I had to go on being a sailor down at 44 Whitehall Street until I was released. At that time I answered an ad, stumbled into publicity work, sold several short stories, married Joseph G. Gousha, had a baby, lived in a top floor on Riverside Drive and wrote between filling the baby’s bottles and doing housework. At night I listened to my husband’s intellectual friends talk music and art, and I wished like anything that I could go to the Palace to see Joe Cook.
Come with me now to Washington Square where all night long typewriters click, people sing in the streets, hurdy gurdies go all day and the laundry boy reads Turgeniev. I realize that never again will I be trapped into respectable neighborhoods or the awful respectability of a home. (I meant to say responsibility, not respectability.)
For three years I tried to sell She Walks in Beauty. I wrote The Bride’s House next and got only fine words from the publishers. Probably they were right, I decided. Suddenly a friend of mine got a job at Brentano’s, took my novel down the first day after dusting it off and shaking out the mothballs, and the publishers were delighted with it. Not until it came out did I really believe they had taken it. After that, publishers who had turned it down started to ask for my next work and said they intended to buy that first novel all along, but were kept from it by a mean old man in the office who made faces at them.
“I realize that as an autobiography many things are lacking from this life of Dawn Powell. I have no anecdotes of Queen Victoria, no meeting with Gladstone or matching of wits with Disraeli. I haven’t moved empires by dancing as Mata Hari did, nobody has written poems to me, but I am still hopeful. After all, life stretches ahead of me, a long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.”