Dawn Powell: The Unknown American Writer

When asked who your favourite writer is, you might say Hemingway, Dickens, Shakespeare, or any number of infamous authors. But, one that wouldn’t be commonly mentioned would be one of Rory’s favourite authors, Dawn Powell.

In Help Wanted, Rory recommends a book to her friend, Lane, which sparks this conversation:

“Dawn Powell, I’ve never heard of her.”

“Nobody has, which is a shame because she wrote 16 amazing novels, 9 plays and there are some who actually claim that it was Powell who made the jokes that Dorothy Parker got credit for.”

Dawn Powell is not a common name to most readers. She’s what is known as a “writers’ writer” – someone obscure that as Gore Vidal once wrote, “always just on the verge of ceasing to be a cult and becoming a major religion.”

Dawn Powell and her husband Joseph Gousha

Powell was born in Mount Gilead, Ohio in 1896. Dawn’s life was forever changed when her mother died when Dawn was only seven years old, and her father remarried a few years later to an abusive woman named Sabra Stearns. After her stepmother burned some of her notebooks in 1910, Dawn Powell moved in with her Aunt Orpha who encouraged her literary aspirations.

The Diaries of Dawn Powell written by Tim Page

Before her death in 1965 Dawn had completed 16 novels, ten plays, dozens of short stories, and been nominated for a National Book Award. Had it not been for Gore Vidal’s editorial on her books in 1987, her works would have remained out of print.

 

Vidal’s work on Dawn Powell inspired Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tim Page to begin his lifelong quest to bring her to notoriety. After publishing his biographical novel, Dawn Powell: A Biography, Page attempted to sell some of Powell’s diaries. Despite his efforts, Dawn Powell was still too unknown to warrant a bidding frenzy, and the auction was called off.

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A Sharp Wit and a Round Table

During an argument in Secrets and Loans, Lorelai states “You think I sit around all day swapping witticisms with Robert Benchley at the Algonquin?”

As everyone knows, Gilmore Girls has a fast paced dialogue full of witty remarks and references; in fact, that’s what this blog is based upon. From 1919 until 1929 another group of witty intellectuals met regularly at the Algonquin Hotel.

Art Samuels, Charles MacArthur, Harpo Marx, Dorthy Parker and Alexander Woollcott

The group came to be during a friendly roast for Alexander Woollcott, the theatre critic for the New York Times. Everyone had such a great time that it was suggested that the group meet daily. So, the Algonquin Round Table came to be.

The main fixtures of the table were: Woollcott, Benchley, Franklin Pierce Adams (known as FPA), Dorothy Parker, Robert Sherwood, George Kaufman, Heywood Broun, and Ruth Hale. Although many other notable members of the literati pulled up a chair like Edna Ferber, Harold Ross and Jane Grant.

 

 

In the room where it all happened, a portrait hangs portraying key members of the group

The Algonquin Round Table was a networking group of sorts, members were not only friends but collaborators. In fact, when Harold Ross and his wife Jane Grant first pitched the idea for a literary magazine, The New Yorker, their relationships with these famous writers were why they were able to launch it. The first issue included pieces written by Parker, Benchley and Woollcott.

The infamous table in the corner of the Algonquin Hotel was the Salon or Les Deux Magot of its’ time. It remains to be a spot where literary deals are made under the portrait of the sharp-tongued members who made it iconic.

 

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The Curse of the Winchester Rifle

In “Love, Daisies and Troubadors”, Luke breaks into Lorelai’s house and begins to fix things around her home, including her cheap locks. Like Sarah Winchester, Luke turns to home renovations to avoid his emotions. Lorelai encourages Luke to resolve his issues with his girlfriend Rachel which “starts with ceasing work on the Winchester Mystery House here.”

Sarah Winchester married William Wirt Winchester in 1862, the heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. In 1866 the couple had a daughter, Annie, but unfortunately, she died 40 days later due to Marasmus.

Sarah Winchester, cursed by spirits and doomed to continue construction on her 160 acre property

The death of her daughter was not the only tragedy in Sarah’s life, in 1861, the year after he inherited his family fortune, William died of Tuberculosis. Following William’s passing Sarah inherited $20 million dollars (in 1880 dollars), 50% of Winchester stock, and approximately $1,000 in royalties each day.

Like many people during this time, Sarah believed in Spirituralism which involves séances and the appeasement of spirits. Sarah visited a psychic who told her that she was haunted by the spirits of those who were killed by the Winchester rifles that her husband’s family produced. To ward off these spirits, Sarah was told to build a house where construction never stopped.

Sarah purchased 160 acres of farmland in San Jose, California. Following orders of the psychic, Sarah’s new house was under construction 24/7, as she feared if it ceased for even a moment, she would die. Sarah’s devout belief in Spiritualism was heavily represented in the construction of the house, the number 13 is represented in custom made chandeliers, stain glass windows and the like.

Despite her efforts, her death came two decades later on Sept. 5, 1922. After her death, the house was turned into a popular tourist destination as there are many architectural oddities; such as the infamous door leading to no where.

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