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Biography of Susan Glaspell (1876-1948)

On July 1, 1876, Susan Keating Glaspell was born in the town of Davenport, Iowa to Alice and Elmer Glaspell, the latter of which sold hay and animal feed for a living. She grew up with one older and one younger brother, and although her father was a devout member of the Disciples of Christ, he maintained a weakness for swearing and horse-racing. When she was young, he allowed her to accompany him to homesteads in Iowa and the surrounding states, giving Glaspell a favorable impression of the people who lived and farmed in the region, which she later explored in her fiction.

An intelligent child, Susan considered entering the teaching profession after high school but chose instead to become a local reporter in the hopes of becoming a writer. She then graduated with a philosophy degree from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, and began to write for the Des Moines Daily News in 1899. While working as a journalist, she wrote short stories for Youth's Companion, selling a total of forty-three stories over the next two decades, many of which were set in Freeport, the fictional version of Davenport. In 1912, she published a collection of these stories entitled Lifted Masks, and she had by this time written two novels, The Glory of the Conquered and The Visioning.

Soon after the publishing of Glaspell's second novel, she married George Cram Cook and soon befriended much of his literary circle. With him, she helped found a theatrical group called the Provincetown Players, which originated in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and moved to Greenwich Village in New York City under the influence of the playwright Eugene O'Neill. Under their direction, the Provincetown Players became an experimental theater group that later became a heavy influence on American drama. Along with acting for the group, Glaspell wrote eleven plays for the Provincetown Players between 1915 and 1922.

The Provincetown Players proved to be extremely successful, but Glaspell's husband decided to move away and try new ventures, and they moved to Greece for the two years prior to his death in 1924. Glaspell moved back to Massachusetts, where she continued writing. She collaborated with her second husband Norman Matson in the play The Comic Artist in 1928, although she divorced her husband of six years in 1931. In the same year as her divorce, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Alison's House, a play based on Emily Dickinson's biography. She also wrote a number of novels prior to her death in Provincetown due to a pulmonary embolism on July 27, 1948, at the age of 66.

Although Glaspell dabbled in various genres of fiction, she remains best known for her Provincetown Players dramas, such as Trifles (1916), a one-act play about a murder in Midwestern America, which she later adapted into the short story "A Jury of Her Peers." Other short plays included Suppressed Desires (1915), a collaboration with George Cook that satirizes the Freudian views of their Greenwich Village peers, and The Outside (1917), which discusses the value of life through the interaction of two old women. Among her long-form plays were Inheritors (1921), which deals with issues of free speech at a Midwestern university, and The Verge (1922), which discusses the inner state of Claire, an intelligent woman who rejects the limits of everyday life. Along with O'Neill, Glaspell was one of the most influential playwrights to come from the Provincetown collaborative, and Trifles in particular has come to be seen as a feminist work that deals with the psychology of crime through the lens of female domesticity.

Study Guides on Works by Susan Glaspell