Owen Dodson

Owen Dodson

Owen Vincent Dodson (November 28, 1914 – June 21, 1983) was an American poet, novelist, and playwright. He was one of the leading African American poets of his time, associated with the generation of black poets following the Harlem Renaissance.[1]

Born in Brooklyn, New York, USA, Dodson studied at Bates College (B.A. 1936) and at the Yale School of Drama (M.F.A. 1939). He taught at Howard University, where he was chair of the Drama Department, from 1940 to 1970, and briefly at Spelman College and Atlanta University.[2] James V. Hatch has explained that Dodson "is the product of two parallel forces—the Black experience in America with its folk and urban routes, and a classical humanistic education."[3]

Dodson's poetry varied widely and covered a broad range of subjects, styles, and forms. He wrote at times, though rarely, in black dialect, and at others quoted and alluded to classical poetry and drama. He wrote about sexuality—he was gay, though he was briefly engaged to Priscilla Heath, a Bates classmate—and about religion.[2] He was closely associated with poets W. H. Auden and William Stanley Braithwaite, but his influences were difficult to pin down. In an interview with Charles H. Rowell, he said:

Well, every writer, at the beginning of his career, is influenced by somebody. Surely it's true that the ragtime rhythms of Langston Hughes and the order of Countee Cullen, his devotion to the church, have influenced me. But you know if you listen to Bach and then listen to the early Haydn you can see a cross between the two--you can see that Bach was influenced by Haydn. Then, if you listen to Haydn at his maturity and then listen to Beethoven, then you can see that Beethoven was influenced at the beginning of his career. And if you listen to the greatest Beethoven and then you listen to the early Brahms, you can see that the early Brahms was influenced by the later Beethoven. Then he became his own style. He got his own idea of life. You admire your father, and you imitate his gestures and his stance--the way he talks, the way he holds his glass, the way he kisses his wife. There is something about him that influences you. But then as you grow older, you begin to get your own style, your own class, your own idea of what is going on. Oh, yes, it's true that Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen influenced me.[4]

In drama, he cited Henrik Ibsen as an influence, though again as an initial relationship later to be reworked and half-forgotten.[4] Dodson's two novels are generally considered to be autobiographical.[2]

Dodson died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 69.

Dodson is one of the subjects of Hilton Als' 1996 book The Women; according to Als, Dodson was his mentor and lover.[1][5]



  • Powerful Long Ladder (1940)
  • The Confession Stone: Song Cycles (1970)
    • Poems from The Confession Stone were set to music by composer Robert Fleming (1968).
  • The Harlem Book of the Dead (1978). Collaboration with photographer James Van Der Zee and artist Camille Billops.


  • Bayou Legend
  • Divine Comedy
  • Till Victory Is Won
  • New World A-Coming
  • Garden of Time (1945)
  • The Confession Stone (1960)


  • Boy at the Window (1951)
  • Come Home Early, Child (1967)


  1. ^ a b Lee, Andrea (1997-01-05), "Fatal Limitations", New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/01/05/reviews/970105.05leelt.html 
  2. ^ a b c Hatch, James V. Sorrow is the Only Faithful One: The Life of Owen Dodson. (Illinois, 1993).
  3. ^ Hatch, "The Alchemy of Owen Dodson," Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 14, No. 2. (Summer, 1980), 51.
  4. ^ a b Rowell, Charles H. "An Interview with Owen Dodson," Callaloo 20,3 (1997).
  5. ^ Bernstein, Richard (1997-01-01), "Feminine Mystique in the Eyes of an 'Auntie Man'", New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/1997/01/01/books/feminine-mystique-in-the-eyes-of-an-auntie-man.html, retrieved 2009-12-01 

External links

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