5 Reasons to Remember Dorothy Parker on Her Birthday

I have admired Dorothy Parker since my youth, when my mother introduced me to the poet’s second collection, Sunset Gun. Though originally published in 1928, the edition my mother owns was printed in 1940 and uniquely features an illustration of the author in a pencil skirt with a quill in hand sat upon the back of a pegasus. This beautiful little paperback was gifted to my grandmother from another woman and passed on from her to my mother, and to this day it sits with a very curated selection of small books between unicorn book ends on a nightstand in my parents’ bedroom, like the precious thing that it is.

Nearly a century before she was honored with a commemorative postage stamp in 1992, the author, poet, critic, and screenwriter, Dorothy Parker, was born Dorothy Rothschild on August 22, 1893, in New Jersey. She is remembered for her wit and biting words, but there’s more to this female figure than you may know. Here’s a few reasons to remember her today:

  1. She had to hustle, just like you. Parker worked at a dancing school playing the piano to make a living while she worked on her writing. She became a paid writer at the age of 21 when one of her poems was selected for publication by Vanity Fair. Eventually, when The New Yorker debuted in 1925, she would be listed on the editorial board.
  2. She overcame depression and alcoholism to live to age 73. Despite the success she found with her writing, Parker attempted to take her own life in the 1920s. Her poem Resumé, from the Portable Dorothy Parker, sends a melancholy message to those of us suffering from similar ailments. “Razors pain you;” she began. She ties up her little, eight-line poem by rhyming, “Nooses give;” with, “You might as well live.”
  3. She was an advocate for civil rights and left her estate to MLK. Following Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, Parker’s literary estate was turned over to the NAACP.
  4. It took her a long time to get the true respect she deserved. In fact, her ashes went unclaimed for 21 years after her death. Finally, the NAACP claimed them and erected a memorial garden in her honor in 1988 at their headquarters in Baltimore.
  5. She got the last laugh. Dorothy Parker’s suggested epitaph, which you can read today in her memorial garden in Baltimore, says, “Excuse my dust.” Her wit truly was unceasing.