Susan Glaspell: Her Life and Times

Susan Glaspell: Her Life and Times

Susan Glaspell: Her Life and Times

Susan Glaspell: Her Life and Times

Synopsis

"Venturesome feminist," historian Nancy Cott's term, perfectly describes Susan Glaspell (1876-1948), America's first important modern female playwright, winner of the 1931 Pulitzer Prize for drama, and one of the most respected novelists and short story writers of her time. In her life she explored uncharted regions and in her writing she created intrepid female characters who did the same. Born in Davenport, Iowa, just as America entered its second century, Glaspell took her cue from her pioneering grandparents as she sought to rekindle their spirit of adventure and purpose. A journalist by age eighteen, she worked her way through university as a reporter. In 1913 she and her husband, fellow Davenport iconoclast George Cram "Jig" Cook, joined the migration of writers from the Midwest to Greenwich Village, and were at the center of the first American avant-garde. Glaspell was a charter member of its important institutions--the Provincetown Players, the Liberal Club, Heterodoxy--and a close friend of John Reed, Mary Heaton Vorse, Max Eastman, Sinclair Lewis, and Eugene O'Neill. Her plays launched an indigenous American drama and addressed pressing topics such as women's suffrage, birth control, female sexuality, marriage equality, socialism, and pacifism. Although frail and ethereal, Glaspell was a determined rebel throughout her life, willing to speak out for those causes in which she believed and willing to risk societal approbation when she found love. At the age of thirty-five, she scandalized staid Davenport when she began an affair with then-married Jig Cook. After his death in Delphi, where they lived for two years, she began an eight-year relationship with a man seventeen years her junior. Youthful in appearance, she remained youthful and undaunted in spirit. "Out there--lies all that's not been touched--lies life that waits," Claire Archer says in The Verge , Glaspell's most experimental play. The biography of Susan Glaspell is the exciting story of her personal exploration of the same terrain.

Excerpt

In "Christine's" the party was in full swing. It was a Saturday night near the end of 1917, one of the coldest periods on record in New York; but those in the overcrowded, third-floor restaurant of the Provincetown Players, at 139 MacDougal Street, were generating their own heat. In the outer room Berenice Abbott, a young visitor, sat silently next to a table quickly filling with discarded coats and hats. In the main room Jig Cook, characteristically twisting a forelock of his white hair, leaned against the central mantlepiece booming out his plans for upcoming productions to no one in particular. In another corner, Eugene O'Neill, dark and brooding, sat at the feet of director Nina Moise, after having—uncharacteristically—perched on a chair to recite a poem. Arriving later than most, two women paused at the entrance to observe the group. One was the beautiful, red-haired Mary Pyne, a leading Players actor. The other was their central playwright, the novelist Susan Glaspell.

Agnes Boulton, writing forty years later, could still recall her first impression of Susan that night: those quick, "expressive eyes" that seemed to take in the flowing life around her; the sensitive face; and the "gift of pointed and significant gaiety" that immediately attracted people to her. Susan was neither sensual like Christine nor beautiful like Agnes. Tall and graceful, with large hazel/brown eyes and short, dark hair that curled around her face, she still bore traces of her Midwest past, which made her look more like a sedate, visiting schoolteacher than a Greenwich Village celebrity. "A slight and girlish woman … an ethereal being, detached and yet passionate," Agnes described her. Susan was, in fact, forty-one, a full decade older than most gathered that evening, but girlish was a word used by those who met her well into her fifties. Ethereal was another. In . . .

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