DODSON, OWEN, 1914-1983.
Owen Dodson papers, 1910-1998

Emory University

Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library

Atlanta, GA 30322


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Descriptive Summary

Creator: Dodson, Owen, 1914-1983.
Title: Owen Dodson papers, 1910-1998
Call Number:Manuscript Collection No. 1162
Extent:12 linear ft. (25 boxes), 15 oversized papers (OP), 1 bound volume (BV), and AV Masters: .5 linear ft.
Abstract:Papers of African American playwright, director, and poet Owen Dodson including correspondence; notes and drafts of poetry, scripts, novels, and other writings; subject files; printed material; personal files; photographs; and audio recordings.
Language:Materials entirely in English.

Administrative Information

Restrictions on Access

Unrestricted access.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.

Related Materials in Other Repositories

Owen Dodson collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University and Countee Cullen/Harold Jackman memorial collection, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center.


Gift, 2010.

Custodial History

Originally part of the Camille Billops and James V. Hatch Archives at Emory University.


[after identification of item(s)], Owen Dodson papers, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.


Processed by Elizabeth Roke, August 2011.

Collection Description

Biographical Note

Owen Dodson (1914-1983), African American playwright, director, and poet. He served for many years as professor of drama at Howard University, where he became known as the "Dean of Black Theater." Dodson graduated from Bates College in 1936 and then studied at Yale Drama School, graduating with an MFA in 1939. While there, he met, among others, W. H. Auden, with whom he developed a lifelong friendship. He served briefly in the United States Navy, producing plays designed to improve the morale of Black seamen. During this period and throughout his career, Dodson wrote and directed plays and served as a teacher of drama. His pursuits in the humanities were recognized during his life. He received the Rosenwald Fellowship in 1944, a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1953, and a Rockefeller Grant in 1969.

As a writer and director of plays, Dodson was closely involved in the world of theater. He was known for his creative casting, and his directing work allowed him to form close friendships with Earle Hyman and Gordon Heath. His plays provide insight into the twentieth-century African American experience. Divine Comedy explores the stories surrounding Father Divine, and Bayou Legend, a re-imagined Peer Gynt set in Louisiana, was widely performed. Dodson's place in drama was acknowledged when "Owen's Song," a celebration of Dodson's work by Glenda Dickerson, was performed at the Kennedy Center in 1974.

Dodson taught first at Spelman College before his time in the Navy, and then spent twenty years at Howard University from 1947-1967 where he directed the Howard University Players. While working as a professor, Dodson often spent his summers involved in drama education at places including University of California Santa Barbara and Lincoln University. He also taught creative writing.

Dodson was also a poet and novelist. His first volume of poems, Powerful Long Ladder, was published to great acclaim in 1946. This was followed in 1951 by the autobiographical novel, Boy at the Window. He also published a collection of poems in 1968 as The Confession Stone (1968), revised and enlarged two years later as The Confession Stone: Song Cycles. In 1978, Dodson co-authored a collection of poetry and photographs titled The Harlem Book of the Dead with Camille Billops and James Van Der Zee.

Scope and Content Note

The collection consists of the papers of Owen Dodson from 1910-1998. The papers document the development of Dodson's writing career, as well as his involvement in education, race relations, theatre, and the film industry. Materials include correspondence (1910-1982); notes and drafts of poetry, scripts, novels, and other writings (1932-1987); subject files (1929-1995); printed material (1910-1998); personal files (1919-1983); photographs (1912-1979); and audio recordings (1960-1984).

Correspondence contains personal and professional correspondence, including correspondence with family members. Writings consist of Owen Dodson's published and unpublished writings, as well as writings by others and includes notes and drafts of articles and essays, the unpublished "Gossip Book," notes and notebooks, novels, poems, scripts, short stories, speeches, and student writing. Subject files document organizations in which Dodson participated including the Howard University Players and includes files for plays he wrote or directed. Printed material includes newspaper clippings, fliers, programs, and other material by or relating to Dodson. Personal files include certificates, biographical information, bibliographies, and personal materials such as passports. Personal files also contain business records related to Dodson's publishing and material related to his family. Photographs cover the span of Owen Dodson's life, from his early childhood and junior high school days through his time in the Navy, his work at Howard University, and his literary and theatrical careers. Audio recordings are mostly interviews by James Vernon Hatch for his biography of Dodson, Sorrow is the Only Faithful One.

Arrangement Note

Organized into seven series: (1) Correspondence, (2) Writings, (3) Subject files, (4) Printed material, (5) Personal files, (6) Photographs, and (7) Audio recordings.

Description of Series