My Home is Far Away is the most precisely autobiographical of Powell’s fifteen novels. In this family chronicle set in early twentieth century Ohio, young Marcia Willard’s family struggles to keep up with the rapidly changing times, and Marcia endures disillusionment, cruelty, and betrayal to forge a survivor’s sense of independence. John Updike has compared Powell with Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, Sherwood Anderson, “and those other Midwestern writers who felt something epic in the national shift from rural ...
My Home is Far Away is the most precisely autobiographical of Powell’s fifteen novels. In this family chronicle set in early twentieth century Ohio, young Marcia Willard’s family struggles to keep up with the rapidly changing times, and Marcia endures disillusionment, cruelty, and betrayal to forge a survivor’s sense of independence. John Updike has compared Powell with Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, Sherwood Anderson, “and those other Midwestern writers who felt something epic in the national shift from rural to urban, from provincial sequestration to metropolitan liberation.” By 1941, when Powell set to work on My Home Is Far Away, she was better known for the smart, boozy, bawdy, hilarious send-ups of Manhattan high and low life. She had begun to attain a reputation for high sophistication and nothing could be less “sophisticated” – in the glittering, all-knowing, furiously present-tense, big-city manner Powell had perfected – than My Home Is Far Away.
This was the month of cherries and peaches, of green apples beyond the grape arbor, of little dandelion ghosts in the grass, of sour grass and four-leaf clovers, of still dry heat holding the smell of nasturtiums and dying lilacs. This was the best month of all and the best day. It was not birthday, Easter, Christmas, or picnic, but all these things and something else, something wonderful, something utterly unknown. The two little girls in embroidered white Sunday dresses knew no way to express their secret joy but by whirling each other dizzily over the lawn crying, “We’re moving, we’re moving! We’re moving to London Junction!”
My Home Is Far Away is one of the very few examples of a book written for adults, with an adult command of the language, that maintains the vantage point of a hungry, serious child throughout. It might be likened to a memoir that has been penned not with the usual tranquility of distance but rather with the sense that everything happening to the characters is happening right now, without any promise of eventual escape, without any assurance that childhood, too, shall pass away.
My Home is Far Away had been out of print for sixty years when Steerforth reissued it in 1995. It received immediate widespread acclaim, and was featured on the cover of the New York Times Book Review, where Terry Teachout called it “one of the permanent masterpieces of childhood, comparable with David Copperfield, What Maisie Knew and the early reminiscences of Colette,” and where he proclaimed Powell to be “one of this country’s least recognized great novelists.”
Ten years after Steerforth launched the Dawn Powell revival, her five best-selling novels are being reissued in newly designed Zoland Books editions with Reading Group Guides inside.
Late in life, out of luck and fashion, Henry James predicted a day when all of his neglected novels would kick off their headstones, one after another. As the twentieth century came to an end, the works of Dawn Powell managed the same magnificent task.
When Powell died in 1965, virtually all her books were out of print. Not a single historical survey of American literature mentioned her, even in passing. And so she slept, seemingly destined to be forgotten – or, to put it more exactly, never to be remembered.
How things have changed! Twelve of Powell’s novels have now been reissued, along with editions of her plays, diaries, letters, and short stories. She has joined the Library of America, admitted to the illustrious company of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Adams, Frederick Douglass, and Edith Wharton. She is taught in college and read with delight on vacation. For the contemporary poet and novelist Lisa Zeidner, writing in The New York Times Book Review, Powell “is wittier than Dorothy Parker, dissects the rich better than F. Scott Fitzgerald, is more plaintive than Willa Cather in her evocation of the heartland, and has a more supple control of satirical voice than Evelyn Waugh.” For his part, Gore Vidal offered a simple reason for Powell’s sudden popularity: “We are catching up to her.”
Tim Page, Powell’s biographer, from his new foreword to My Home Is Far Away,
Dawn Powell was born in Mt. Gilead, Ohio, on November 28, 1896, the second of three daughters. Her father was a traveling salesman, and her mother died a few days after Dawn turned seven. After enduring great cruelty at the hands of her stepmother, Dawn ran away at the age of thirteen and eventually arrived at the home of her maternal aunt, who served hot meals to travelers emerging from the train station across the street. Dawn worked her way through college and made it to New York. There she married a young advertising executive and had one child, a boy who suffered from autism, then an unknown condition.
Powell referred to herself as a “permanent visitor” in her adopted Manhattan and brought to her writing a perspective gained from her upbringing in Middle America. She knew many of the great writers of her time, and Diana Trilling famously said it was Dawn “who really says the funny things for which Dorothy Parker gets credit.” Ernest Hemingway called her his “favorite living writer.” She was one of America’s great novelists, and yet when she died in 1965 she was buried in an unmarked grave in New York’s Potter’s Field.
Her books live, and with these newly designed editions, with their reading group guides inside, more people than ever before will be able to hear Dawn’s distinctive voice.