Dawn Powell (November 28, 1896 - November 14, 1965) was an American writer of satirical novels and stories that manage to be barbed and sensitive at the same time.
Powell was born in Mount Gilead, Ohio, a village 45 miles north of Columbus and the county seat of Morrow County, Ohio. After her mother died when Powell was seven, she lived with a series of relatives around the state. Her father re-married, but his second wife was harsh and abusive toward the children; when her stepmother destroyed her notebooks and diaries, she ran away to live with an aunt, who encouraged her creative work. Powell later gave her childhood fictional form in the novel My Home Is Far Away (1944).
At Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, she wrote stories and plays, acted in college productions, and edited the college newspaper. After graduation, she moved to Manhattan. Most of her subsequent writing would deal either with life in small Midwestern towns, or with the lives of people transplanted to New York City from such towns.
In 1920 she met and married Joseph Gousha, an aspiring poet. In 1921, the couple had their only child, Jojo, who was born mentally and emotionally impaired (possibly autistic). Her husband abandoned poetry for the steady work of advertising, and the family moved to Greenwich Village, which remained her home base for the rest of her life.
She had a prodigious output, producing hundreds of short stories, ten plays, a dozen novels, and an extended diary starting in 1931. Her writings, however, never generated enough money to live off of. Throughout her life, she supported herself with various jobs, including freelance writer, extra in silent films, Hollywood screenwriter, book reviewer, and radio personality.
Her novel Whither was published in 1925, but she always described She Walks In Beauty (1928) as her first. Her favorite of her own novels, Dance Night, came out in 1930. The early work received uneven reviews, and none of it sold well. Her 1936 novel Turn, Magic Wheel was the first work that both received critical acclaim and reasonably good sales, and marked a turn to social satire in a New York setting. In 1939, her publisher became Scribner's, where Maxwell Perkins was her editor.
In 1942, Powell published her first commercially successful novel, A Time To Be Born, whose central figure--Amanda Keeler Evans, an egotistical hack writer whose work and media presence are bolstered by the assiduous promotion of her husband, the newspaper magnate Julian Evans--is loosely modelled on Claire Boothe Luce, wife of Henry Luce. Her output after the war slowed down, but included some of her most acclaimed New York novels, including The Locusts Have No King (1948), a portrait of the disintegration and eventual rekindling of a love affair against the background of the city and the onset of the Cold War (the novel ends with news of the Bikini atom-bomb tests). Two late novels show Powell's interest in the New York art world of the 1950s, The Wicked Pavilion (1954), an ensemble portrait of the characters orbiting around the Cafe Julien (a fictionalized Hotel Brevoort) and a vanished or deceased painter named Marius; and The Golden Spur (1962), in which a young man's effort to discover who his real father was brings him to New York and eventually to involvement with the circle around a charismatic painter named Hugow.