Tracing a Village writer through her apartments

Dawnpowell1914Dawn Powell might be the most popular unknown writer to come out of Greenwich Village.

Born in Ohio, she moved to New York after college in 1918, hungry to make it in the literary world.

Dawnpowell106perrystcityrealtyHer output included more than a dozen novels as well as short stories and plays, plus countless magazine articles and book reviews.

Yet Powell (above, in 1914) never gained the kind of fame that friends like Edmund Wilson and Malcolm Cowley enjoyed.

Like her artistic crowd, though, she indulged in boozy evenings at haunts like Cafe Lafayette, did stints at writer’s colonies, and lived in a series of Village apartments that reflect the ups and downs of a struggling writer’s life.

She and her husband, Joe, an alcoholic ad exec, and their young son (who had an unnamed disorder, perhaps autism) lived at 106 Perry Street, above left, in 1930.

teakwoodhouseacrossstreetA year later they relocated to 9 East 10th Street (right), with its intricately carved teakwood facade.

“[I] love it passionately,” Powell wrote in her diary, published in 1995. “So quiet—calm, spacious, one’s soul breathes deep breaths in it and feels at rest.”

 Making the rent wasn’t easy, Powell noted. In 1942, the family moved to a duplex at 35 East 9th Street (below).

“[It is] considerably cheaper but much more deluxe looking in a sort of modern-improvement Central Park West way,” she wrote, later calling it “a dreary dump” except for her live-in maid’s room on the roof.


She lived here for 16 years before she and Joe were thrown out, with their belongings strewn on the sidewalk, for not paying rent—Joe had retired and had no income, she wrote.

In 1958, the couple moved from hotel to hotel, first at the Irving on Gramercy Park South and then to the Madison Square Hotel.

Of that hotel, she wrote, “The halls reek of old people—the elevator and lobby smell of brown envelopes (unemployment and social security checks)….”

In 1959 they put $250 down for a four-room place at 23 Bank Street. which she called “beyond belief perfect.”

Dawnpowell43fifthaveHer time there, however, didn’t last. By 1960, she and Joe moved to 43 Fifth Avenue (right).

She then took up in an office at 80 East 11th Street and back to an apartment again at 95 Christopher Street.

Christopher Street (below) appears to have been her last home.

Joe died of cancer in 1962. In the next few years, Powell’s diary lists her own many hospital visits.

On November 14, 1965, Powell died penniless at St. Luke’s Hospital.

Her final resting place isn’t in or near her beloved Greenwich Village but is on Hart Island—where she was interred in the city’s potter’s field.

Dawnpowell1952[Second photo: City Realty; fifth photo: Powell in the 1950s]

Tags: , , , , , ,

14 Responses to “Tracing a Village writer through her apartments”

  1. lusitangled Says:

    What a life of struggle!

  2. carolegill Says:

    the moves and the last one, Hart Island tell a story, indeed. What an amazing article about the irony of life. As a writer, i really identified! Thank you. I guess if nothing else, had the internet been around in her day, she’d have been known at least.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I wonder how she would have fared in the digital age. All the self-promotion writers have to do today might have driven her nuts.

  3. Walk About New York Says:

    Our Greenwich Village Walking Tour [] and the Gay Village Walking Tour [] include many who have lived, loved and laughed in Greenwich Village.

    A NOTE: the building identified as 95 Christopher St. is in fact 45 Christopher St., which is near to Stonewall Inn, birthplace of the modern gay rights movement. #45 is further down the road a piece, at the corner of Bleecker and Christopher Streets.

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Thanks WANY, you’re right about the photo of 45 Christopher. I will change it as soon as I can!

  5. M.K.E. Says:

    Dawn Powell was a masterful and incomprehensibly overlooked author. The Locusts Have No King is my favorite of her books, but all of her works are fantastic. Thank you for such an informative yet truly sad post.

  6. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    You’re welcome. I highly recommend her both her published diary and collection of her letters, both edited by Tim Page. Her acerbic insights about life, love, and art, as well as gossip and name drops about the Village from the 1930s to the 1960s, are wonderful.

  7. arielejohannson Says:

    Sent via the Samsung Galaxy S® 6, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone

  8. Jim rynne Says:

    Great story telling. To duplicate those moves these days would require deep pockets.

  9. Paul Dyer Says:

    I’ve read two of Powell’s novels, and they were both wonderful. But I didn’t know she had to struggle so much for money and living spaces. She really deserves to be more widely read today.

  10. Mad Says:

    Thanks for posting this article about Dawn Powell, a unjustly neglected writer. Her husband’s alcoholism and subsequently erratic income no doubt contributed to their frequent moves.

  11. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    You’re welcome, I’m glad to hear from so many admirers of her work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: