John Dos Passos (John Roderigo Dos Passos) Biography
(1896–1970), (John Roderigo Dos Passos), Eight Harvard Poets, One Man's Initiation – 1917
American novelist, poet, and playwright, born in Chicago, educated at Harvard. He contributed to various magazines whilst at Harvard, some of his college verse being published later in Eight Harvard Poets (1917). His father sought to prevent him from joining an American ambulance unit in 1916 by financing a year of architectural study in Spain, yet he enlisted in the famous Norton-Harjes ambulance unit and later served in Italy and France. These experiences became the basis of his first novel One Man's Initiation – 1917 (1920; reissued as First Encounter, 1945). The war also provided the starting point for his second work, Three Soldiers (1921), which concerned the bureaucratic effects of warfare on the lives of three very different young men. After the war he became a freelance journalist, travelling extensively in Europe, the Near East, and Russia in the 1920s, as well as writing poetry (A Pushcart at the Curb, 1922) and critical essays on Spanish culture (Rosinante to the Road Again, 1922). He then produced Streets of Night (1923) and the novel that marked the beginning of the period of his major achievements, Manhattan Transfer (1925). During the next five years he became increasingly political, protesting at the Sacco and Vanzetti trial of 1927 in Facing the Chair (1927), and participating on the Dreiser committee which investigated the virtual state of civil war which surrounded the famous miners' strike in Harlan County, Tennessee, in 1931. He joined the executive board of the magazine the New Masses in 1926, and was a writer for The New Playwrights' Theatre. He produced several plays, all demonstrating an acutely politicized consciousness, three of which were published as Three Plays (1934): The Garbage Man (1926), about a typical New York couple; Airways Inc. (1928), about corporate business and a building trades dispute; and Fortune Heights (1933), about the rise and fall of estate development. Further travel writings appeared, amongst them Orient Express (1927) and In All Countries (1934). Throughout his life he maintained a career as a novelist, playwright, and political reporter, though his major literary effort went into writing U.S.A. (1938), a trilogy which comprised The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936). The trilogy District of Columbia (1952) is an examination of the political motivations of the New Deal and the Second World War, made up of The Adventures of a Young Man (1939), about Glenn Spotswood, a naïve communist who falls foul of the Party; Number One (1943), about Glenn's brother, Tyler; and The Grand Design (1949), about the boys' father. The first of these was the first real sign of a complete break with the left in the USA. There followed further fictional works, including The Prospect Before Us (1950); Chosen Country (1951); Most Likely To Succeed (1954), a satire on bohemians and socialists in the 1920s and 1930s; The Great Days (1958); and Midcentury (1961), a novel which takes the devices of U.S.A. and puts them to work in a defence of a battery of conservative values. As well as this considerable production of large novels, he also wrote reportage and critical essays about politics and culture, amongst which are The Villages Are the Heart of Spain (1937), Journeys between Wars (1938), Tour of Duty (1946), and Brazil on the Move (1963). However, the works for which he became most famous in the 1950s and 1960s were his historical studies relating to the problems of US democracy, including a series of biographies in The Ground We Stand on (1941) and Prospects of a Golden Age (1959), essays on early American leaders in The Men Who Made the Nation (1957), with other books including Mr Wilson's War (1963), and The Shackles of Power (1966) about the Jeffersonian era. In 1973, a volume of selections from his letters and diaries appeared under the title of The Fourteenth Chronicle.