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The great naturalist novelist Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) was born into poverty in Terre Haute, Indiana. In his early years, he struggled to make a living as a newspaper reporter in Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and, finally, New York City, where he moved in 1894. After finding work editing and writing columns for magazines, he published his first novel, Sister Carrie, in 1900. Over the next several years he worked as a magazine editor, and only after the success of his novel Jennie Gerhardt (1911) was he able to write full-time. He moved to Greenwich Village in 1914, residing in Patchin Place, home to many notable writers. He published his work in the Masses and other left-wing periodicals, and had affairs with several women, among them Kirah Markham, an actor with the Provincetown Players. He began to write experimental plays and to become interested in theories of psychoanalysis, which was popular among Villagers at the time. During these years he became friends with Frank Shay, owner of the Washington Square Bookshop at the time. The two planned for Shay to publish a new edition of Sister Carrie, but Shay was drafted to serve in World War I before he could do so. Shay introduced Dreiser to Horace Liveright, who published the edition instead, beginning Dreiser's long relationship with the publishers Boni and Liveright. The 1925 publication of his novel An American Tragedy confirmed Dreiser's reputation as a major American novelist. He continued to write both novels and social commentary for many more years, and lived off and on in New York for much of his life.
A playbill for the Provincetown Players's production of Theodore Dreiser's The Hand of the Potter, 1921.
Dreiser's play, a tragic tale of a sexual criminal who murders an 11-year-old girl, was published in 1918, but was not produced until the Provincetown Players's production represented here. The play's tragic element rests in the murderer's inability to control his deeply-rooted impulses, and alludes to emergent psychological theories of the time.