John Dos Passos

From Academic Kids

John Roderigo Dos Passos, born January 14, 1896 in Chicago, Illinois, United States - died September 28, 1970 in Baltimore, Maryland, was a novelist and artist.

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John Dos Passos' father was a wealthy Chicago lawyer and could afford to give him the best education. In 1907, he was sent to study at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut then went with a private tutor on a six-month tour of France, England, Italy, Greece, and the Middle East to study the masters of classic art, architecture, and literature. In 1913 he went to Harvard University. Following his graduation from university, in 1916 he traveled to Spain to study art and architecture. With World War I raging in Europe and America not yet participating, along with friends E. E. Cummings and Robert Hillyer, in July of 1917 John Dos Passos volunteered with the S.S.U. 60 of the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps, working as a driver in Paris, France and in north-central Italy. By the late summer of 1918, he had completed a draft of his first novel just at the time he had to report for duty with the U.S. Army Medical Corps at Camp Crane in Pennsylvania. At war's end, he was stationed in Paris, where the U.S. Army Overseas Education Commission allowed him to study anthropology at the Sorbonne.

Considered one of the Lost Generation writers, Dos Passos' first novel was published in 1920. Titled One Man's Initiation: 1917 it was followed by an antiwar story, Three Soldiers, which brought him considerable recognition. His 1925 novel about life in New York City titled Manhattan Transfer was a commercial success.

However, before becoming a leading novelist of his day, John Dos Passos sketched and painted. During 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 Dos Passos created. Influenced by various movements, he merged elements of Impressionism, Expressionism and Cubism to create his own unique style. And his work evolved to more than just a minor hobby with his first exhibition at New York's National Arts Club in 1922 and the following year at Gertrude Whitney's Studio Club in New York City.


While Dos Passos never gained recognition as a great artist, he continued to paint throughout his lifetime and his body of work was well respected. His art most often reflected his travels in Spain, Mexico, North Africa, plus the streets and cafés of the Montparnasse Quarter of Paris that he had frequented with good friends Fernand Leger, Ernest Hemingway, Blaise Cendrars and others. Between 1925 and 1927, Dos Passos wrote plays as well as creating posters and set designs for the New Playwrights Theatre in New York City. In his later years his efforts turned to painting scenes around his residences in Maine and Virginia.

A social revolutionary, Dos Passos came to see the United States as two nations, one rich and one poor. He wrote about the injustice in the criminal convictions of Sacco and Vanzetti and joined with other notable personalities in the United States and Europe in a campaign to overturn their death sentences. In 1928, Dos Passos spent several months in Russia studying their socialist system. He returned to Spain with Hemingway during the Spanish Civil War but his views on the communist movement had already begun to change and as he grew older, he all but abandoned much of the leftist political rhetoric of his youth. In the mid-1930s he wrote a series of scathing articles about communist political theory. At a time when socialism was gaining popularity in Europe as a response to Fascism, Dos Passos' writings resulted in a sharp decline in international sales of his books. Nevertheless, recognition for his significant contribution in the literary field would come thirty years later in Europe when in 1967 he was invited to Rome to accept the prestigious Felltrinelli Prize for international distinction in literature.

Over his long and successful career, Dos Passos wrote forty-two novels, poems, essays, and plays, and created more than 400 pieces of art. His major work is the trilogy U.S.A. that comprised The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936). Dos Passos used an experimental technique in these novels, incorporating newspaper clippings, diary entries, and the like to paint a vast landscape of American culture during the first decades of the Twentieth Century.

During World War II, John Dos Passos worked as a journalist covering the war between 1942 and 1945. In 1947 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters but tragedy struck in the form of an automobile accident that killed his wife of 18 years, Katharine Smith, and cost him the sight in one eye. He eventually remarried to Elizabeth Holdridge (1909-1998) and through the 1950s and 1960s, Dos Passos continued to write until his death in 1970. He was interred in the churchyard cemetery in Yeocomico Churchyard Cemetery in Cople Parish, Westmoreland County, Virginia, not far from where he had made his home.

In early 2001, an exhibition titled The Art of John Dos Passos opened at the Queens Borough Library in New York City after which it moved to several locations throughout the United States.

Some of the literary works of John Dos Passos:

A few of the artworks by John Dos Passos:


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