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University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Cook, George Cram
(October 7, 1873–January 14, 1924)

–author–received from his parents, Edward Everett Cook and Ellen (Dodge) Cook, an education in the classics that would greatly influence his future career. After attending high school in his native Davenport and college at the State University of Iowa, Harvard, and Heidelberg (Germany), Cook returned to the State University of Iowa, where he taught English for two years. He abandoned that profession for the life of a soldier in the Spanish-American War, but returned home a year later without firing a shot. After one more year as a professor, this time at Stanford University, he left academe for good to write and farm on the Cook family estate near Davenport. Cook's wife, Sara Herndon Swain, whom he married in 1902, never liked the country life and soon left him.

    During the years he spent on the family estate, Cook wrote his first novel, Roderick Taliaferro (1903), and met lifelong friend Floyd Dell, who influenced him toward socialism. Dell's influence and Cook's struggle to lay down his Nietzschean philosophies can be seen in his novel The Chasm (1911). Dell moved Cook to political activism, and together they started the Monist society, a group of freethinkers in Davenport. Cook, like Dell, joined Davenport's Socialist Party and in 1910 became its candidate for Congress from Iowa's Second Congressional District.

    As Cook became more involved with radical society in Davenport, he met and wooed Mollie Price, a fellow socialist and journalist. They were married in 1908 after Cook's divorce became final; two children, Harl and Nilla, were born to them. The marriage was short-lived, however; novelist Susan Glaspell soon became Cook's new romantic interest.

    Davenport's cultural and moral climate became too stifling for Cook, Dell, and Glaspell; Cook and Dell left for Chicago, while Glaspell left for New York. During 1911 and 1912, Cook reviewed many books for Dell's Friday Literary Review, a supplement of the Chicago Evening Post, and became a part of the Chicago Renaissance, finding his inspiration for what would become the Province-town Players in the performances of the touring Irish Players and in Maurice Browne's Little Theatre.

    After Cook divorced his second wife, he moved to New York and married Susan Glaspell in 1913. Two years later the couple founded the Provincetown Players, which Cook hoped would engender a new national American theater through reviving the communal rituals of Dionysiandrama. During the next seven years, Cook wrote five plays that received mixed reviews. The Spring (1921) looks to the Native Americans of Iowa and Illinois for its inspiration, contrasting their authenticity of spirit with the conventionalism and oppression he believed to be typical of the contemporary Midwest. He also wrote two short plays with Glaspell, Suppressed Desires (1915) and Tickless Time (1918), both of which satirized extremism among his bohemian contemporaries. The Province-town Players also performed Change Your Style (1915), a short satire on different schools of art, and The Athenian Women (1918), a full length play based on Aristophanes' Lysistrata.

    Eventually, Cook decided that the group had lost its vision, so he and Glaspell moved to Greece in 1922. There Cook wrote poetry and lived the life of a peasant, hoping to revive in Delphi, Greece, the kind of authentic Dionysian theater that he had failed to create with the Provincetown Players. There, in 1924, he contracted glanders from his dog and died.
Sources The Berg Collection of the New York Public Library houses many of Cook's papers. Susan Glaspell's biography of her husband, The Road to the Temple (1927; reprint, 2005), is the most complete, if not unbiased, account of Cook's life. Robert Sarlos, Jig Cook and the Provincetown Players: Theatre in Ferment (1982), focuses on Cook's role in the history of American theater. Susan Kemper, "The Novels, Plays, and Poetry of George Cram Cook, Founder of the Province-town Players" (Ph.D. diss., Bowling Green State University, 1982), critically surveys Cook's two noncollaborative, full-length dramas; his two novels; and his collection of poetry, Greek Coins (1926). Robert Humphrey includes a chapter on Cook in his Children of Fantasy: The First Rebels of Greenwich Village (1978). Thomas Tanselle, "George Cram Cook and the Poetry of Living," Books at Iowa 24 (April 1976), includes a complete bibliography of Cook's works.
Contributor: Jennifer Baughman