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Who really makes the jokes that Dorothy Parker gets credit for?

By Joan Milligan

Ohioan Dawn Powell, a best-selling author and satirist, has been largely forgotten. This summer consider discovering what critics call her "keen wit" and her "exquisitely judged and timed" comedic voice. Insider Diana Trilling reportedly said that Powell was the "answer to the old question 'Who really makes the jokes that Dorothy Parker gets credit for?'"

Powell (1896 - 1965) had a miserable childhood in Mount Gilead, Ohio, but her creative abilities won her a way out. She attended Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio on a scholarship. After graduation in 1918 she moved to Manhattan, becoming a member of the Lost Generation literary circle. She wrote 15 novels, hundreds of short stories, and 10 plays. 

Check out these Dawn Powell books available at Roesch Library:

Dawn Powell: Novels, 1930-1942, Library of America, 2001. 

  • Dance Night, 1930. On Thursday nights the people of a small Ohio factory town get together to dance and fantasize about lives different from their own. This was Powell’s own favorite among her works.
  • Tenth Moon, 1932. Published later as Come Back to Sorrento. When an Ohio housewife, who once had dreams of becoming an opera singer, meets the new high school music teacher, the two form an intense friendship.
  • Turn, Magic Wheel, 1936. In this satire of the New York literary scene, a novelist uses the events in his friends’ lives to write his fiction. This was Powell’s first work to get critical acclaim and good sales.
  • Angels on Toast, 1940. A “screwball comedy” of two salesmen attempting to outwit their mistresses, wives, and ex-wives.
  • Time to be Born, 1942. The main character is said to be loosely modeled on socialite Clare Boothe Luce, one-time editor ofVanity Fairmagazine and the wife of wealthy publisher Henry Luce. Powell’s portrayal is said to be “one of her most wickedly barbed creations.” It was her first commercially successful novel.     

Dawn Powell: Novels, 1944-1962, Library of America, 2001. 

  • My Home is Far Away, 1944. The last of Powell’s works to be set in Ohio, this is a fictionalized memoir of Powell’s heart-breaking childhood.
  • Locusts Have No King, 1948. Set in postwar New York, this is one of Powell’s most acclaimed novels. A rekindled love affair between an obscure historian and a successful playwright sputters as the he experiences her world of celebrity and riches.
  • The Wicked Pavilion, 1954. At the fictional Café Julien in Greenwich Village a community of artists live with illusions of love and of success. Also available separately. 
  • Golden Spur, 1962. A young man's search for his dead father’s identity and history brings him to New York, where he becomes part of a charismatic painter’s circle of friends and admirers. Based upon Powell’s time spent among painters at the famous Cedar Tavern, this is an affectionate satire on Manhattan’s art world.

Dawn Powell at Her Best, edited with an introduction by Tim Page:This includes the novels Dance Night and Turn, Magic Wheel, as well as nine short stories.

—Joan Milligan, Special Collections Cataloger

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