American Literature Susan Glaspell
Noelia Hernando-Real
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0073


Susan Glaspell (b. 1876–d. 1948) was among the most celebrated writers of the first half of the twentieth century. Cofounder of the Provincetown Players, the Greenwich Village little theater that revolutionized US drama in the 1910s and 1920s, she wrote fifteen plays and achieved critical acclaim as a dramatist of ideas. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1931 and directed the Midwestern Play Bureau of the Federal Theatre Project from 1936 to 1938. Glaspell was also an accomplished fiction writer. Over her life, she published more than sixty short stories, which came out in magazines ranging from Harper’s Bazaar and Munsey’s to Ladies’ Home Journal and Black Cat. In 1912 thirteen of her early stories came out in the collection Lifted Masks, which the American Library Association praised for its “well constructed stories of decided originality.” Glaspell also published nine novels, many of which were positively reviewed and listed as best sellers, a biography of her husband, George Cram (Jig) Cook, entitled The Road to the Temple (1926), and a children’s book, Cherished and Shared of Old (1941). At the height of her critical acclaim in the theater, the New York Morning Telegraph called her “the great American thinker in dramatic form,” while her New York Times obituary recognized she was “one of the nation’s most widely read novelists.” Glaspell’s popularity, along with that of other women writers, declined during the postwar years of American canon formation. Beginning in the 1970s, mostly due to feminist reappraisals of her one-act play Trifles (1916) and its short story version “A Jury of Her Peers” (1917), Glaspell was rediscovered and critical interest in her life and works rekindled. Born in Davenport, Iowa, to a family of pioneers, Glaspell became a New Woman, graduating from Drake University in 1899 and working as a reporter for the Des Moines Daily News, a job that provided her with material for many of her short stories and her most well-known works, Trifles and “A Jury of Her Peers.” Her years living amid the bohemian circle in Greenwich Village were her most productive in terms of writing for the theater. Upon the dissolution of the original Provincetown Players in 1922, she traveled to Delphi (Greece) with Cook until his death in 1924, when she returned to the United States and devoted more time to writing fiction, which brought her enormous successes. After battling with stomach cancer, Glaspell died of a pulmonary embolism and pernicious anemia in July 1948.

Primary Texts

Glaspell published twelve plays in her lifetime. Her first major collection, Plays (1920), contains Trifles, The People, Close the Book, The Outside, Woman’s Honor, and Bernice, as well as the two plays coauthored with Jig Cook, Suppressed Desires and Tickless Time. The full-length plays Inheritors (1921), The Verge (1921), and Alison’s House (1930) were originally published separately, as was The Comic Artist (1927), co-written with Norman Matson. Three plays remained unpublished until the edition of the complete plays, by Linda Ben-Zvi and J. Ellen Gainor, appeared in 2010: Chains of Dew, Free Laughter, and Springs Eternal. Glaspell’s prose, published in her lifetime, includes nine novels, one biography, and one book for children. Only a small number of her more than fifty short stories have been collected, first in Lifted Masks (1912; rev. ed., 1993), and more recently in Her America: “A Jury of Her Peers” and Other Stories (2010).

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