John was born in 1896. Son of John Randolph Dos Passos and Lucy Addison Spriggs. He passed away in 1970.
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Novelist, Playwright, and Artist. He is best known for his U.S.A. trilogy which consists of the novels "The 42nd Parallel" (1930), "1919" (1932), and "The Big Money" (1936), and is considered one of the "Lost Generation" writers, that emerged during World War I.
Born John Roderigo Dos Passos in Chicago, Illinois, his father was a trust lawyer of half Madeiran Portuguese descent. He received his education at the Choate School (now Choate Rosemary Hall) in Wallingford, Connecticut in 1907 under the name John Roderigo Madison (Madison was his mother's maiden name [Not completely correct. Madison was his mother's first married name.]), then traveled with a private tutor on a six-month tour of France, England, Italy, Greece, and the Middle East to study the masters of classical art, architecture, and literature. In 1912 he enrolled at Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts and following his graduation in 1916, he went to Spain to study art and architecture.
In July 1917, with World War I raging in Europe, Dos Passos volunteered for the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, along with friends E.E. Cummings and Robert Hillyer, working as an ambulance driver in Paris, France and in north-central Italy. He later joined the US Army Medical Corps at Camp Crane, Pennsylvania. On Armistice Day (November 11, 1918), he was stationed in Paris, where the US Army Overseas Education Commission allowed him to study anthropology at the University of Paris.
In 1920 he published his first novel, "One Man's Initiation: 1917," followed by an antiwar story, "Three Soldiers" (1921), which brought him considerable recognition.
He had an interest in art and in the summer of 1922, he studied at Hamilton Easter Field's art colony in Ogunquit, Maine. Many of his books published during the ensuing ten years used jackets and illustrations that he created. Influenced by various movements, he merged elements of Impressionism, Expressionism, and Cubism to create his own unique style. His art evolved with his first exhibition at New York's National Arts Club in 1922 and the following year at Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's Studio Club in New York City. While he never gained recognition as a great artist, he continued to paint throughout his lifetime and his body of work was well respected.
In 1925 he wrote a novel about life in New York City, titled "Manhattan Transfer." It was a commercial success and introduced experimental stream-of-consciousness techniques into his writing method. A social revolutionary, he saw the US as two nations, one rich and one poor. He wrote admiringly about the Wobblies (the Industrial Workers of the World), and the injustice in the criminal convictions of Italian anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, and joined with other notable personalities in the US and Europe in a failed campaign to overturn their death sentences.
In 1928 he spent several months in Russia studying socialism. In 1932 he attended the Democratic National Convention and subsequently wrote an article for The New Republic in which he harshly criticized the selection of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the party's nominee. He also wrote a series of scathing articles about Communist political theory, and created an idealistic Communist in "The Big Money" who is gradually worn down and destroyed by groupthink in the party.
He was a leading participator in the April 1935 First Americans Writers Congress sponsored by the Communist-leaning League of American Writers, but he eventually balked at the idea of the control that Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin would have on creative writers in the US. He served on The American Committee for the Defense of Leon Trotsky, commonly known as the "Dewey Commission," with other notable figures such as Sidney Hook, Reinhold Niebuhr, Norman Thomas, Edmund Wilson, and chairman John Dewey, which had been set up following the first of the Moscow "Show Trials" in 1936.
The following year he wrote the screenplay for the film "The Devil is a Woman," starring Marlene Dietrich and directed by Josef von Sternberg, adapted from the 1898 novel "La Femme et le pantin" by Pierre Louys. In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, he returned to Spain with his friend, author Ernest Hemingway, but his views on the Communist movement had already begun to change. He broke with Hemingway and journalist Herbert Matthews over their cavalier attitude towards the war and their willingness to lend their names to deceptive Stalinist propaganda efforts, including the cover-up of the Soviet responsibility in the murder of activist Jose Robles, his friend and translator of his works into Spanish.
Between 1942 and 1945 he worked as a journalist and war correspondent covering World War II. In 1947 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In the 1950s his political views moved to the right, and he came to have a qualified, and temporary, sympathy for the goals of anti-communist US Senator Joseph McCarthy. During this time he also contributed to publications such as the libertarian journal The Freeman and the conservative magazine, National Review and published the influential study, "The Head and Heart of Thomas Jefferson" (1954).
In the 1960s, he actively campaigned for presidential candidates Barry Goldwater and Richard M. Nixon, and became associated with the group Young Americans for Freedom.
In 1967 he was awarded the Antonio Feltrinelli Prize for international distinction in literature. His later works include "The Theme Is Freedom" (1956), "The Men Who Made the Nation" (1957), "The Great days" (1958), "Prospects of a Golden Age" (1959), "Midcentury" (1961), Mr. Wilson's War" (1962), Brazil on the Move" (1963), "The Best Times: An Informal Memoir" (1966), "The Shackles of Power" (1966), "The Portugal Story" (1969), "Century's Ebb: The Thirteenth Chronicle" (1970, and "Easter Island: Island of Enigmas" (1970). He died at the age of 74 and over his career, he wrote 42 novels as well as poems, essays, and plays, and created over 400 pieces of art.
In 1998 the Modern Library ranked the U.S.A. Trilogy 23rd on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
The John Dos Passos Prize is a literary award given annually to the best currently under-recognized American writer in the middle of their career by the Department of English and Modern Languages at Longwood University.
Bio by: William Bjornstad
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