Columbia University Libraries Acquires Author Dawn Powell Archives

Powell, a New York novelist whose posthumous champions included Gore Vidal, Edmund Wilson and Matthew Josephson, produced hundreds of short stories, ten plays, fifteen novels and extended diary volumes throughout her lifetime.  Despite a prodigious output, Powell’s career was not widely regarded during her lifetime. When she died in 1965, most of her novels were out of print.

Timothy Page, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former music critic at The Washington Post and former contributor to The New York Times, discovered Powell’s work for himself in the early 1990’s and set about re-igniting a broader interest in her writing. He wrote a 1998 biography on Powell, purchased and published numerous editions of her letters, papers and diaries, and placed the collection at the Libraries’ RBML in 1994, continuing to donate additional pieces periodically. Mr. Page is currently a professor of music and journalism at the University of Southern California.

In 2012, Mr. Page announced that he intended to sell a principal piece of the collection: Powell’s diaries.  After an attempt to privately auction the diaries with the stipulation that the material be kept together and publically available, Mr. Page settled on a price with Columbia University Libraries to retain the collection permanently.   

"Tim Page rescued Dawn Powell's legacy and brought her back to the public's attention,” said Michael Ryan, Director of the RBML. “It is good for that legacy and for the researchers who want to consult and study it that it will be together, permanently, here at Columbia.  This is a happy ending to a very interesting story.  Tim Page has been a good citizen of the University and a steadfast friend to its Libraries."

The full collection contains a wide variety of materials relating to the author's life and work, including photographs and art work, manuscripts, and books. Correspondence includes a large group of letters written to Margaret De Silver, perhaps Powell's closest female friend, and letters received from her son Joseph "JoJo" R. Gousha, Jr. as well as three volumes of his diaries and a manuscript volume entitled "My Book of Memories of My Mother Dawn Powell."

Manuscripts of her own works include the novels "Angels on Toast," "Turn Magic Wheel," and "The Story of a Country Boy," among others. In addition to the manuscript of "The Golden Spur," the collection contains the manuscript of the omitted first chapter of the work, as well as her attempts to turn the novel into a play or a musical. Manuscripts of her plays and short stories include "Big Night," "No Cure for the Common Doctor," "You Should Have Brought Your Mink," and "Can't We Cry a Little," among others. Printed materials include copies of her works inscribed to family members, such as her rare first book, "Whither," inscribed to her sister Mabel, and "The Story of a Country Boy," inscribed to Auntie May, the aunt who raised her.

"I am delighted that the entire Dawn Powell archive will be housed at the Columbia Rare Books and Manuscript Library,” said Page.  “I think it would make the author very happy to know that her effects - diaries, photographs, manuscripts, art works and various materials - will be in her beloved New York City forever.”

The material is currently available in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Those interested in viewing it should contact the department: or 212-854-5590.

Columbia University Libraries/Information Services is one of the top five academic research library systems in North America. The collections include over 11 million volumes, over 150,000 journals and serials, as well as extensive electronic resources, manuscripts, rare books, microforms, maps, and graphic and audio-visual materials. The services and collections are organized into 22 libraries and various academic technology centers. The Libraries employs more than 500 professional and support staff. The website of the Libraries is the gateway to its services and resources: