SORROW IS THE ONLY FAITHFUL ONE by James V. Hatch

SORROW IS THE ONLY FAITHFUL ONE

The Life of Owen Dodson
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An artful biography from Hatch (English/CCNY; Roots of African-American Drama, 1858-1940, etc.--not reviewed) that conveys the charm, complexity, pain, vision, and humanity of the amazing black gay actor, teacher, and writer Owen Dodson. Born in 1870, educated among the ambitious immigrant European population of N.Y.C., orphaned when he was 12, Dodson, a Bates College scholarship student, was--like many black intelligentsia of his generation--overeducated for the work that was available to him, but he found refuge in a series of academic posts teaching theater at such black colleges as Atlanta University (where he met W.E.B. DuBois), Lincoln, and, finally, Howard. There, his innovative production of Ibsen won the entire cast an invitation to Scandinavia. In plays (Sonata, The Poet's Caprice), a novel (Boy at the Window), and three volumes of poetry, he recorded the deprivations, exclusions, and insecurities that blacks of his generation suffered. He rejected dialect as ``plantation talk,'' as well as what he called the ``art of insult'' used by black writers like LeRoi Jones. Dodson's friendships--which transcended class, race, and political barriers--included alliances with W.H. Auden, Sir John Gielgud (who coached Dodson to do a black Hamlet), and Paul Robeson. His talent, charm, and idealism won patrons and supporters from Orson Welles--who offered to waive his fees for a black educational film--to the four-year-old who assured him that ``God made the world for you.'' But Dodson's sexual relationships were ill-fated and unhappy, and, in 1983, he died a lonely alcoholic, crippled by arthritis. Though perhaps unlucky in life, Dodson is lucky in his biographer--who values clarity, context, the revealing anecdote, and, above all, his subject's art. (Twenty-five photographs)

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-252-01977-6
Page count: 328pp
Publisher: Univ. of Illinois
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1993