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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   

11. Modernist Portraits

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Sherwood Anderson
- Hart Crane
- F. Scott Fitzgerald
- Susan Glaspell
- Ernest Hemingway
- Nella Larsen
- Marianne Moore
- John Dos Passos
- Gertrude Stein
- Wallace Stevens
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Susan Glaspell (1876-1948)

Douglas County Farmsteads, Nebraska
[6016] Arthur Rothstein, Douglas County Farmsteads, Nebraska (1936), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USF34-004276-D DLC].

Susan Glaspell Activities
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Born in Davenport, Iowa, Susan Glaspell grew up in a Midwest that was settled only decades before, but was developing rapidly as the post-Civil War economic boom transformed the United States. After graduating from high school, Glaspell worked as a reporter for the Davenport Morning Republican and then for Davenport's Weekly Outlook, where she edited the society pages. As a student at Drake University, Glaspell began writing for the college newspaper, and following her graduation became a statehouse reporter for the Des Moines Daily News, where she gained familiarity with the workings of American government. After two years as a journalist, she turned her attention to fiction, and her short stories appeared in magazines such as the Ladies' Home Journal and Harper's. For a short time in 1903, she studied English at the University of Chicago's graduate school. Her first novel, The Glory of the Conquered, was published in 1909.

Glaspell gave up journalism in 1901 and returned to Davenport, where she met the free-thinking George Cram Cook, a fellow member of the local progressive organization called the Monist Society. Though Cook was married when they met, he left his wife and married Glaspell, then thirty-six, and together they moved to the East Coast in 1913. Over the next ten years, they lived part of each year in New York's Greenwich Village and part in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Cook was a writer as well as a theatrical director, and the couple helped to found the Provincetown Players, a landmark organization in the development of American theater. The most famous of its members, Eugene O'Neill, authored plays such as Long Day's Journey into Night and The Iceman Cometh. Glaspell wrote nine plays for the Provincetown Players from 1916 to 1922, including her best-known one-act play Trifles. The commercial success of the Provincetown Players in some ways limited the company's ability to experiment, and in 1922 Glaspell and her husband left the group.

Glaspell continued to write through the 1930s and 1940s, publishing drama and fiction and remaining committed to writing experimental and overtly social work. Her play Alison's Room, which received the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1930, follows the struggles of Alison Stanhope, a poet modeled upon Emily Dickinson, and considers the difficulties female artists face as a result of their gender. Much of Glaspell's work considers women's roles in society and the conflicts faced by American women who pursue individual fulfillment. Trifles examines the ways that expectations of women can confine them and offers a potential remedy for this problem in the communal efforts of women resisting the traditional roles to which men assign them. Glaspell's focus on the lives of women and their roles in American society challenged conventions of what could be shown on the American stage, and her stylistic innovations and promotion of new experiments in drama helped to shape American theater. After decades of critical neglect, Glaspell's significant contribution to the development of American drama has begun to be recognized.

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