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Dorothy Parker was an American author and critic famous for her caustic wit. She was one of the founding members of the Algonquin Round Table, a regular meeting of writers and actors at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Though Dorothy Parker is perhaps best known for her one-liners, she published numerous volumes of poetry and short stories, many inspired by her cynical outlook on life.
Dorothy Parker was born Dorothy Rothschild in Long Branch, New Jersey on 22 August 1893, but she grew up on the Upper West Side in Manhattan. She became familiar with tragedy at a young age. Her mother died in 1898, when Dorothy Parker was almost five years old, and her stepmother died four years later. Dorothy Parker attended a Catholic elementary school, and later a finishing school in New Jersey, which she left at the age of 13. Dorothy Parker's father died when she was 19 years old.
In 1917, Dorothy Parker married Edwin Pond Parker II, a broker on Wall Street, but he went into service in World War I shortly afterwards, and the two later divorced. The same year, Dorothy Parker published her first poem in Vanity Fair and later landed a job on the Vogue staff. Two years later, in 1919, she moved to Vanity Fair as a drama critic.
Dorothy Parker's fame grew through her position at Vanity Fair and allowed her to meet like-minded writers, including fellow Algonquin Round Table founders Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood. Over the next ten years, the trio were joined at their Algonquin Hotel lunches by other journalists, authors, and comedians, including Harpo Marx. Their witty remarks were often repeated and published in magazines, and Dorothy Parker's were among the most memorable and biting.
Though an important step in her career, Dorothy Parker's stint at Vanity Fair was short-lived, ending in 1920 when her scathing reviews lost their novelty and began to offend. Benchley and Sherwood resigned at the same time. In 1925, Algonquin Round Table member Harold Ross founded a new magazine, The New Yorker, and offered Dorothy Parker work at the publication. She began publishing her creative work in the magazine, soon followed by poetry and short story collections in book form.
After a number of brief affairs, Dorothy Parker married actor and screenwriter Alan Campbell in 1934. She discovered her own talent for screenwriting, and the couple moved to Hollywood, where they made a comfortable living working freelance. Dorothy Parker's relationship with her second husband was stormy — they divorced in 1947, then remarried three years later.
Dorothy Parker became increasingly political in her Hollywood years, claiming to be a Communist and founding the Anti-Nazi League in 1936. In 1950, she was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) under McCarthy and blacklisted. In the late 1950s, Dorothy Parker wrote book reviews for Esquire magazine to supplement her screenwriting income.
After her husband died in 1963, Dorothy Parker returned to Manhattan, where she died of a heart attack on 7 June 1967. She bequeathed everything to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but it went to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) after his death. Dorothy Parker's ashes, unclaimed for many years, are now interred at the Baltimore headquarters of the NAACP.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who was Dorothy Parker and why is she significant in American literature?
Dorothy Parker was an American writer and poet known for her sharp wit and satirical prose. She rose to prominence in the 1920s as a member of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of New York City writers, critics, and actors. Parker's work often critiqued social norms and the status of women, making her a significant figure in American literature. Her short stories and poems were published in magazines like "The New Yorker," and she was awarded the O. Henry Award for Short Fiction in 1929.
What are some of Dorothy Parker's most famous works?
Dorothy Parker's most famous works include her collections of poetry, such as "Enough Rope" (1926) and "Sunset Gun" (1928), and her collections of short stories, like "Laments for the Living" (1930) and "After Such Pleasures" (1933). Her poem "Resume" and her short story "Big Blonde" are particularly well-known; the latter won the O. Henry Award. Parker's writing is celebrated for its wit, irony, and insight into the human condition.
Did Dorothy Parker have any involvement in social or political movements?
Yes, Dorothy Parker was actively involved in social and political movements. She was an advocate for civil rights and a vocal critic of fascism during the 1930s and 1940s. Parker supported the Spanish Republic during the Spanish Civil War and was listed as a communist by the FBI, which led to her being blacklisted in Hollywood during the McCarthy era. Her political activism reflected her commitment to social justice and equality.
How did Dorothy Parker's personal life influence her writing?
Dorothy Parker's personal life, marked by her struggles with alcoholism, multiple marriages, and a series of personal tragedies, deeply influenced her writing. Her work often explored themes of disillusionment, romantic disappointment, and the darker aspects of human nature. Parker's own experiences lent authenticity to her satirical voice and the complex, often flawed characters she created, resonating with readers who appreciated her candor and emotional depth.
What is Dorothy Parker's legacy in modern literature and culture?
Dorothy Parker's legacy in modern literature and culture is substantial. She is remembered as a trailblazer for women in writing, using her wit and literary talents to challenge societal norms. Her work continues to be celebrated for its sharp humor and emotional resonance. Parker's influence can be seen in the works of later writers who have adopted her blend of social commentary and personal reflection. Additionally, her involvement in social causes has inspired generations of writers to use their voices for advocacy.