Dos Passos, John (1896–1970) By Hanna, Julian
John Dos Passos was an American writer best known for his ‘contemporary chronicles’ of American life. His early novels, including Manhattan Transfer (1925) and the U.S.A. trilogy — The 42nd Parallel (1930), Nineteen Nineteen (1932), and The Big Money (1936) — are considered classics of American Modernism, offering a complex and multifaceted portrayal of American society from the turn of the century to the Great Depression. The depiction of urban experience in these novels reflects the cinematic montage of Dziga Vertov, the stream-of-consciousness style of James Joyce, and the dynamism and simultaneity of Italian Futurism, among other influences.
In addition to writing fiction, Dos Passos was a dramatist, poet, historian, journalist, travel writer, painter, and translator. His first two novels, One Man’s Initiation: 1917 (1920) and Three Soldiers (1921), are harrowing and highly critical accounts based on his experience as an ambulance driver in the First World War. He published a collection of free verse, A Pushcart at the Curb (1922), as well as translations of the modernist poetry of Blaise Cendrars. In the late 1920s he worked briefly as a director, playwright, and set designer at the Vsevolod Meyerhold-inspired New Playwrights’ Theater in Greenwich Village, where his associates included communist writers like Mike Gold and John Howard Lawson.