John Dos Passos was born in Chicago and earned his BA from Harvard University. After graduation, he volunteered as an ambulance driver in World War I; at the war’s end, he worked as a newspaper correspondent and traveled extensively in Spain. His experiences in Europe contributed to his radicalism; in his early work, Dos Passos was known for his commitment to leftist and progressive social politics. Though he published more than 40 books, he is best known for his U.S.A. trilogy, which includes the novels The 42nd Parallel (1930), 1919 (1932), and The Big Money (1936). Other early novels include Three Soldiers (1921) and Manhattan Transfer (1925). Dos Passos’s second trilogy, District of Columbia (Adventures of a Young Man, 1939; Number One, 1943; The Grand Design, 1949), signaled the beginning of his disillusionment with leftist politics and turn to politically conservative positions. His work, always insistently political, fell into semi-obscurity in the 1950s and ’60s.
Though Dos Passos published just one collection of poetry in his lifetime, A Push Cart at the Curb (1922), his poems appeared in various journals, including Dial, Poetry, and Vanity Fair. His poem expressing outrage at the trial of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, “They Are Dead Now,” was published in the New Masses in 1927. His last novel, Century’s Ebb: The Thirteenth Chronicle, was published posthumously in 1975.