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"What Was in the Water in Davenport?": The Story of Three Davenport Writers

"What Was in the Water in Davenport?": The Story of Three Davenport Writers Online

"What Was in the Water in Davenport" deals with the fertile cultural environment in Davenport that gave rise to eight of its citizens who became published writers--two of them Pulitzer Prize winners--all born between 1850 and 1887.  It focuses on the three Davenport writers--Floyd Dell, George Cram Cook, and Susan Glaspell-- who became members of the Provincetown Players, the little theatre group with which Nobel Laureate Eugene O'Neill was affiliated.

The philosophical and political orientations of these writers, fostered in their Midwestern hometown, resulted in a theatre practice marked by experimentalism, collaboration, leftist cultural critique, rebellion, liberation, and community engagement. This talk situates the origin of the Provincetown aesthetic in Davenport, where a large German population provided a particularly rich cultural matrix; other elements in Davenport that were conducive to literary and intellectual achievement include Socialism, trade unionism, and feminism.

Dell and Cook were active in a Socialist local and ran for office in Davenport as Socialists. In addition to their political activities, Dell's work as reporter and editor for The Tri-City Workers Magazine, Dell's and Cook's leadership and Glaspell's membership in the Monist Society, and Cook and Glaspell's role in the Davenport censorship controversy were reflected in the plays that they wrote for the Provincetown Players. All three writers were able to see that radical politics sometimes begets radical chic; consequently, several of their plays satirize the faddish elements of the progressive political, social, and cultural movements in which they were active. Although the Provincetown Players was located on the East Coast, several of Dell's, Cook's, and Glaspell's plays were set in Davenport and its environs, a tribute to the lasting influence of the city's cultural milieu on these writers.

About the Speaker: Marcia Noe teaches courses in American literature and women's studies at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She is the author of Three Midwestern Playwrights: How Floyd Dell, George Cram Cook, and Susan Glaspell Transformed American Theatre, Susan Glaspell: Voice from the Heartland, and over twenty other publications on Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Susan Glaspell. In 1993, she was Fulbright Senior Lecturer-Researcher at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil; with Junia C.M. Alves, she edited a collection of essays on the Brazilian theatre troupe Grupo Galpao (Editora Newton Paiva, 2006). She is a senior editor of The Dictionary of Midwestern Literature, an editor of the journal MidAmerica, and is the chair of the editorial committee of the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature, which gave her the MidAmerica Award for distinguished contributions to the study of midwestern literature in 2003. She has supervised 27 student conference presentations and supervised or co-authored over 27 student publications. In 2004 she won the UTC College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teacher award and was an elected member of UTC's Council of Scholars and Alpha Society. She recently completed a term on the board of Girls Inc. of Chattanooga and currently sits on the boards of the League of Women Voters of Chattanooga and The Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature.

Related LibGuide: Susan Glaspell by Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center

Saturday, February 25, 2023
1:30pm - 3:00pm
Meeting Room B (Large)
This is an online event.
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Celebrate more of Susan Glaspell's life and work by attending The New Athens Players' performance of three short pieces on Feb. 24-26, and Mar. 3-5, at the Village Theatre. For more information about this performance's dates and times, click here.

The name for this venture, “New Athens Players,” is based on Susan Glaspell’s husband’s idea that, as they were drawing inspiration themselves from ancient Greece, they would return to Davenport someday and make it a “New Athens.”

On the bill will be:

* “Trifles,” Susan Glaspell’s most well-known play and arguably one of her best – a story of murder and the quiet solidarity among women in a rural community,

* “The Rules of the Institution,” a dramatization of a short story by Susan Glaspell – portraying the way a young woman learns to break free of the conventions that surround her,

* “An Iowa Seer Comes Home to Greece,” a collage of writing by Susan Glaspell, her husband George Cram Cook, and their Quad Cities friend Floyd Dell, on Glaspell’s and Cook’s move to Greece in the 20s, and Cook’s untimely death there.

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