Partner Hilton Als

Queer Places:
309 Berriman St, Brooklyn, NY 11208
450 Shepherd Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11208
422 Quincy St, Brooklyn, NY 11221
469 Quincy St, Brooklyn, NY 11221
Yale University, 38 Hillhouse Ave, New Haven, CT 06520
74 Lake Pl, New Haven, CT 06511
1813 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20009
1707 Columbia Rd NW, Washington, DC 20009
600 West End Ave, New York, NY 10024
350 W 51st St, New York, NY 10019
The Evergreens Cemetery Brooklyn, Kings County (Brooklyn), New York, USA

Owen Vincent Dodson (November 28, 1914 – June 21, 1983) was an American poet, novelist, and playwright. He was one of the leading African-American poets of his time, associated with the generation of black poets following the Harlem Renaissance.[1] W.H. Auden, whom Dodson had befriended at Yale and one of his many lifelong friends, gave him use of his Italian villa in 1952, when Dodson, on sabbatical, sought a place to work on a second novel.

Owen Vincent Dodson was born in Brooklyn, New York, to Nathaniel Barnett Dodson (1868–1928) and Sarah Elizabeth Goode (1870–1926). While the family struggle to survive, Nathaniel Dodson enjoyed a place among the vanguard of educated African Americans and served as press agent for Booker T. Washington. The family lived at 309 Berriman, Brooklyn. The place offered cheap rent, space for a vegetable garden, and an elevated-train station at Pitkin Avenue and Montauk Avenue, a four-block walk. A grocer occupied the first floor; to the right, a stairway ascended to the Dodson floor-through; on the third floor lived an Italian widow who spoke no English, but who shared her Italian pantry with Sarah. This Berriman Street block became the setting for Owen's first novel, Boy at the Window.

In June of 1927, a year after Sarah's death, the family moved four blocks to an old house at 450 Shepherd, between Sutter and Belmont. On the porch of this gray brownstone were pots but no flowers. A quiet street, with fewer children - gloomy.

In 1928, with both of their parents died, Owen's sister, Lillian, 30 years old and a teacher, moved the family from the old neighborhood to an integrate block at 422 Quincy, Brooklyn. From the rented place at #422, they moved in the 1940s to an owned property at 469 Quincy, Brooklyn, a classic three-story brownstone, two blocks from where they had been renting.


by Carl Van Vechten

He studied at Bates College (B.A. 1936) and at the Yale School of Drama (M.F.A. 1939).[2] Owen and Ollie Harrington moved into 74 Lake Place, New Haven, a university house, and with them, an international ménage of housemates. They lived on ground floor: Ollie had the front room; then, beyond a sliding door, Owen had the middle room. In May 1937, Owen and Ollie visited Richmond Barthé's studio on 14th Street in Manhattan; they found Helen Mencken sitting for a portrait, and a bust of black baritone Roland Hayes awaiting completion.

In 1938 Dodson accepted a position at Spelman College in Atlanta, where his work as a director greatly impressed the school's most distinguished resident, W.E.B. DuBois. In 1941, after teaching briefly at the Hampton Institute in Virginia, he enlisted in the navy. He was discharged in 1943 for medical reasons and received a Rosenwald Fellowship.

He taught at Howard University, where he was chair of the Drama Department, from 1947 to 1970.[3] James V. Hatch has explained that Dodson "is the product of two parallel forces—the Black experience in America with its folk and urban routes, and a classical humanistic education."[4] Dodson's poetry varied widely and covered a broad range of subjects, styles, and forms. He wrote at times, though rarely, in black dialect, and at others quoted and alluded to classical poetry and drama. He wrote about religion and about sexuality—he was gay, though he was briefly engaged to Priscilla Heath, a Bates classmate.[3] One critic describes him as "a brilliant, gay man who discovered his sexual preference early in life, but who was nevertheless unlucky and unhappy in several ill-fated relationships."[5] He was closely associated with poets W.H. Auden and William Stanley Braithwaite, but his influences were difficult to pin down. In an interview with Charles H. Rowell, he said: Well, every writer, at the beginning of his career, is influenced by somebody. Surely it's true that the ragtime rhythms of Langston Hughes and the order of Countee Cullen, his devotion to the church, have influenced me. But you know if you listen to Bach and then listen to the early Haydn you can see a cross between the two--you can see that Bach was influenced by Haydn. Then, if you listen to Haydn at his maturity and then listen to Beethoven, then you can see that Beethoven was influenced at the beginning of his career. And if you listen to the greatest Beethoven and then you listen to the early Brahms, you can see that the early Brahms was influenced by the later Beethoven. Then he became his own style. He got his own idea of life. You admire your father, and you imitate his gestures and his stance--the way he talks, the way he holds his glass, the way he kisses his wife. There is something about him that influences you. But then as you grow older, you begin to get your own style, your own class, your own idea of what is going on. Oh, yes, it's true that Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen influenced me.[6] In drama, he cited Henrik Ibsen as an influence, though again as an initial relationship later to be reworked and half-forgotten.[6] Dodson's two novels are generally considered to be autobiographical.[3]

Dodson lived in his apartment at 1813 16th Street, Washington DC, where, according to his authorized biography, Sorrow Is the Only Faithful One (1993), he “held court for nearly twenty years.” He rented two apartments in a building owned by May Miller. His biographer, James V. Hatch, writes: “There, students saw a home with original paintings, with shelf upon shelf of theater, art, and poetry books, with stacks of classical records; and there they marveled at the two carousel horses that held up the round glass table.” In 1965, he vacated his two apartments when Miller decided to sell the building, and moved to a smaller, two-bedroom apartment at the Columbia Rd. address, until his early retirement from Howard University at age 54, in 1967. When he retired, he moved to New York.

In the 1970s, Owen and his sister Edith moved to 600 West End Avenue, NYC. Dancer David Bryant lived with Owen for a short time at #600 sharing the rent. Then, according to Owen's "The Gossip Book", Bryant borrowed money from Owen's friends, which led to quarrels and Bryant left. In 1973 Hilton Als, aged 13, arrived to #600 with a shopping cart because his teacher Imani Gibbs had informed him that Owen Dobson was giving books away. He carted off a complete set of Dickens. Two years later, he met again Dobson, who is one of the subjects of Hilton Als' 1996 book The Women; according to Als, Dodson was his mentor and lover.[1][7]

In 1974, Dodson moved into an apartment on West 51st Street, New York, with his sister Edith.

Dodson died in 1983 from cardiovascular disease at the age of 69.


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