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Dorothy Parker (August 22, 1893 – June 7, 1967), the American journalist, author, and poet was known for her acid wit and for being one of the founding members of the Algonquin Roundtable, an exclusive group of eminent New York City writers in the early twentieth century. She was born Dorothy Rothschild in West End, New Jersey, the product of an unhappy home life.
Parker got her start by writing for magazines, including theatre criticism for Vanity Fair. In the 1920s, she became known for her book review column, Constant Reader, in the New Yorker. Her reviews — some snarky, others sensitive, always pithy — were a pleasure to read. The magazine also published some of her short stories. “Big Blonde,” one of her most widely read short stories, won the O. Henry Award in 1929. Other well-known works included Enough Rope, Here Lies, and Laments for the Living.
See also: Gems from Dorothy Parker’s Book Reviews
As a member of the New York literary scene in 1920s Parker helped form a group called the Algonquin Round Table. Named for where they met — The Algonquin Hotel — other members included Robert Benchley, Harold Ross, Edna Ferber, and Harpo Marx. This group also referred to themselves as the Vicious Circle — they loved sarcasm, gossip, and rapier wit.
Hollywood years and more
Parker spent much of the 1930s and 40s in Hollywood, where she wrote screenplays with her second husband, Alan Campbell. They were nominated for a Best Screenplay Academy Award for A Star is Born (1937). They also wrote the screenplay for the Alfred Hitchcock film, Saboteur (1942).
Her accomplishments in fiction and screenwriting notwithstanding, it’s her witty, trenchant verse that’s most remembered. Here Lies, Death and Taxes, and Enough Rope are the best-known collections of her poems.
You might also like: 8 Short and Not-So-Sweet Verses on Life and Love
Political activism & civil rights
Parker became involved with the Communist Party in the 30s, which would later lead to being blacklisted in the 1950s. More importantly, she was an avid supporter of the Civil Rights movement. As a Jew, Parker identified with the oppressed. A 1927 New Yorker story, “Arrangement in Black and White” satirizes white people who claim not to be racist.
She left her estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was surprised by her bequest, since the two had never met. Another stipulation provided that if something should happen to Dr. King, which came tragically to pass not long after, that her estate should go to the NAACP. To this day, the NAACP is in charge of her literary estate.
The Baltimore branch of the NAACP designed a garden in her honor, with a plaque that reads:
“Here lie the ashes of Dorothy Parker (1893–1967) humorist, writer, critic. Defender of human and civil rights. For her epitaph she suggested, ‘Excuse my dust’. This memorial garden is dedicated to her noble spirit which celebrated the oneness of humankind and to the bonds of everlasting friendship between black and Jewish people. Dedicated by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. October 28, 1988.”
Last years and legacy
Parker returned to New York City in 1963. Her last years were marred by poor health, and she disavowed her former colleagues of the Algonquin Round Table. She died on June 7, 1967. Though her life was turbulent, Dorothy Parker made an indelible mark on American literature.
Dorothy Parker page on Amazon
More about Dorothy Parker on this site
- 8 Short and Not-So-Sweet Verses on Life and Love
- Gems from Dorothy Parker’s Book Reviews
- Witty and Wise Quotes
- Hellman & Parker: The Friendship of Two Difficult Women
- Complete Stories
- Complete Poems
- The Ladies of the Corridor
- Dorothy Parker: In Her Own Words
- Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker
Autobiographies and Biographies about Dorothy Parker
- Dorothy Parker: In Her Own Words by Dorothy Parker and Barry Day
- Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This? by Marion Meade
- A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick and Marion Meade
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