Dawkins, Cecil 1927-
DAWKINS, Cecil 1927-
PERSONAL: Born October 2, 1927 in Birmingham, AL; daughter of James Toliver and Lucile-Hannah (Thiemonge) Dawkins. Education: University of Alabama, B.A., 1950; Stanford University, M.A., 1953.
CAREER: Writer. Stephens College, instructor in English, 1953-58, writer in residence, 1961-62, 1973-76; Sarah Lawrence College, guest faculty member, 1979-81; University of Hawaii—Manoa, distinguished visiting writer, 1991.
AWARDS, HONORS: Stanford University fellow, 1952-53; McGinnis Award, 1963, for "A Simple Case"; Guggenheim fellow, 1966-67; Harper-Saxton fellow, Harper & Row, 1968, 1971, for The Live Goat; grant, National Endowment for the Arts, 1976.
The Displaced Person (play; adapted from stories by Flannery O'Connor), produced in New York, NY, at American Place Theater, 1966.
The Live Goat (novel), Harper (New York, NY), 1971.
Charleyhorse (contemporary western novel), Viking (New York, NY), 1985.
The Santa Fe Rembrandt (mystery novel), Ivy Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Clay Dancers (mystery novel), Random House (New York, NY), 1994.
Rare Earth (mystery novel), Random House (New York, NY), 1995.
Turtle Truths (mystery novel), Ivy Books (New York, NY), 1997.
(Editor) A Woman of the Century, Frances Minerva Nunnery (1898-1997): Her Story in Her Own Memorable Voice As Told to Cecil Dawkins, University of New Mexico Press (Albuquerque, NM), 2002.
Contributor to Best American Short Stories, edited by Martha Foley, 1963. Contributor of short stories to magazines, including Paris Review, Sewanee Review, Georgia Review, Southwest Review, McCall's, Red-book, Pacific Spectator, and Saturday Evening Post.
ADAPTATIONS: The Quiet Enemy was adapted as a sound recording, read by the author, released by American Audio Prose Library (Columbia, MO) in 1983.
SIDELIGHTS: Cecil Dawkins's The Live Goat combines history and horror in its presentation of Isaac, the scapegoat referred to in the title. He is mentally disabled and kills a sixteen-year-old girl, Eily, on the morning of her wedding day. Isaac then flees, and a group of men, including Eily's father, pursue him and bring him back to be hanged. Christopher Ricks, a reviewer for the New York Review of Books, stated: "The book is markedly unsentimental; the code which pursues Isaac for 500 miles, which halters him and brings him back, and which hangs him, is presented with a very precise sense of what in it is high and proud, and what is gross and vengeful." In a Best Sellers article, William A. C. Francis observed that "the point of the novel, however, is that no man whose creed is an eye for an eye will ever be whole again once he is contaminated with the blood of the scapegoat." Hite, the preacher in the novel, echoes this same message right before Isaac is hanged, saying, "God said let the live goat go! Put on his head all your sins and send him into the wilderness! His is your innocence. Don't destroy it!"
In another novel, Charleyhorse, Dawkins moves her wilderness setting to a cattle ranch in Kansas. It is on this ranch that the protagonist, Charlene, challenges her mother's control. This all-female household is completed with the arrival of Juna, a schoolteacher from New York; and with Juna's help, Charlene completes her rebellion and discovers herself. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented that this story of one girl's initiation into adulthood "confirms Dawkins's skill as a storyteller in the tradition of Flannery O'Connor." In contrast, reviewing the novel for the New York Times Book Review, Penelope Ready stated: "Despite the author's accurate accounts of a cow-calf operation, the book has a fakey quality. . . . She misses the heart completely, forcing the reader out back to observe the characters through a fly-covered screen door. This novel never touches upon questions of morality, discipline and dignity, which are as close to the landed Western as are the range grasses and sunsets."
A Publishers Weekly reviewer found The Santa Fe Rembrandt, Dawkins's first mystery novel, to be "a busy but hollow effort in which crimes abound and characters are delivered with carefully designed doses of charm." The plot revolves around a Rembrandt that has been stolen from Santa Fe's Waldheimer Museum. Ginevra Prettifield, assistant director of the museum, conceals the theft from a visiting tour group of longtime yuppie friends known as "the pod" (short for posse). Ginevra enlists the help of her friend Tina Martinez, who in turn persuades two of her admirers, a local police lieutenant and art expert Pablo Esperanza-Ramos, to undertake a discreet investigation of the Rembrandt theft and the forgery that has been put in its place. Ginevra's next discovery is the unconscious body of Raoul Query, one of "the pod" members, with art expert Pablo kneeling over him. It is Ginevra who eventually exposes the mastermind behind the Rembrandt theft, uncovers Raoul's attacker, and as a bonus, also solves the mystery of a murder that took place prior to the book's action.
Turtle Truths, another mystery novel, is set both in Santa Fe and the West Indies and combines elements of murder mystery and melodrama. A struggling artist named Reuben comes to the aid of celebrity actor Anthony Quayle after Quayle has been injured in a horseback-riding accident. As a reward, Quayle offers Reuben the use of his car and a place to stay in his home. In return, he merely asks that Reuben act as an occasional chauffeur. The "occasional" soon becomes "often" as many of those involved in Quayle's next film come to visit. When one of the visitors turns up dead and Quayle subsequently vanishes, Reuben finds himself without an alibi and the chief suspect in the murder. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commented: "There's a lot of Santa Fe color here but the characters are unpleasant and seem merely to appear on the same page rather than actually interact."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dawkins, Cecil, The Live Goat, Harper (New York, NY), 1971.
Best Sellers, May 15, 1971, William A. C. Francis, review of The Live Goat.
New York Review of Books, July 22, 1971, Christopher Ricks, review of The Live Goat.
New York Times, June 12, 1971.
New York Times Book Review, September 22, 1985, Penelope Ready, review of Charleyhorse, p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, July 12, 1985, review of Charleyhorse; September 6, 1993, review of The Santa Fe Rembrandt, p. 88; September 15, 1997, review of Turtle Truths, p. 73.
Saturday Review, July 3, 1971.
Interview (audio cassette recording), American Audio Prose Library (Columbia, MO), 1983.*