See biography by B. Ozieblo (2001).
Her novels and plays are committed to developing deep, sympathetic characters, to understanding "life" in its complexity. Though realism was the medium of her fiction, she was also greatly interested in philosophy and religion. Many of her characters make principled stands.
As part of the Provincetown Players, she arranged for the first ever reading of a play by Eugene O'Neill.
Susan Keating Glaspell was born in Davenport, Iowa in 1876 (the ersatz birthyear of 1882 is sometimes seen). Before college, she worked on the local paper in Davenport, writing the society column. She then enrolled in Drake University in Des Moines and earned her Bachelor's degree in 1899. She worked as a reporter for a Des Moines paper, where she was appointed to report on the murder trial of John Hossack in 1900. This crime would be the basis for two of her best known works today, "A Jury of Her Peers," (1917) a short-story, and the one-act-play Trifles (1916). She studied for one semester of graduate school at the University of Chicago in 1902.
She began to publish her fiction in periodicals. "For the Love of the Hills" won a prize of $500.00 from Black Cat Magazine, an augur of her future success.
She became involved with the Davenport Monist Society, and there she met George Cram Cook, a sometime classics professor, novelist and poet, and an itinerant farmer.
She spent time in Chicago and is associated with the Chicago Renaissance. Her first novel, The Glory of the Conquered, set in Chicago, was published in 1909. She published the "Visioning" in 1911 and "Fidelity" in 1915. By the time she wrote and published Fidelity, Glaspell had already moved east with Cook.
In the east, she married Cook. The couple moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts, spending winters in Greenwich Village in New York City. It was Cook who first suggested to Glaspell that she write plays and co-authored her first play Suppressed Desires.
Together with friends, they founded the influential Provincetown Players theater group in 1915 on an abandoned wharf by their house on Commercial Street. The group produced plays by both Cook and Glaspell, as well as helping to launch the career of Eugene O'Neill. Other notables associated with the group include Edna St. Vincent Millay, Theodore Dreiser, and Glaspell's longtime friend Floyd Dell. Glaspell's plays for the Provincetown Players won critical acclaim. Plays she wrote for the group include Trifles, Inheritors and The Verge" The group was run on a collaborative model. Glaspell also acted in some of the plays. She and her husband depended on royalties from her short-stories and novels for most of their income.
In 1922 Glaspell and Cook left their successful theater behind so Cook could write and study in Delphi, Greece. Cook died there in 1924.
Glaspell returned to Cape Cod. She wrote a biography of her late husband called The Road to the Temple. During the late twenties, she was romantically involved with the younger writer Norman Matson. In this period, she wrote three novels, including the bestselling Brook Evans. She also wrote the play, Alison's House, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
The early 1930s were years of low productivity for Glaspell, as she struggled with alcoholism and poor health. Her relationship with Matson had ended. She lived mostly in Truro. Her house in Provincetown had various tenants, including Edmund Wilson and his family.
In the 1930s, Glaspell lived again briefly in Chicago, where she served as Midwest Bureau Director for the Federal Theater Project. During her time in the Midwest, she reconnected with siblings and gained control of her drinking and creativity.
When her work for the Federal Theater Project was finished, Glaspell returned to Provincetown. The time she spend in the Midwest influenced her work, and Glaspell's last three novels increasingly focused on family life.
Glaspell died in Provincetown in 1948.
Glaspell was highly regarded during her own time, and was well known as both a playwright and novelist. Several of her novels were bestsellers. Her Pulitzer Prize for Alison's House is among the more controversial awards in the prize's history. Although her early work had attracted considerable critical attention, her final three novels were especially neglected.
Her popularity decreased after her death, and almost all of her novels are out of print (with the exception of "Fidelity" and "Brook Evans", republished by Persephone Books). In the United States, her work was seriously neglected for many years. Internationally, she received some attention by scholars who were interested mostly in her more experimental work from the Provincetown years.
More recently, Glaspell has become more widely known for her oft-anthologized works: the short story "A Jury of Her Peers" and her one-act play "Trifles." Writer/Director Sally Heckel released a film adaptation of A Jury of Her Peers which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1981. Long out of print, it is now available on DVD from Women Make Movies (www.wmm.com).
In 2005, members of the WITASWAN initiative ("Women in the Audience Supporting Women Artists Now") held a Silver Anniversary Celebration in Chicago with Heckel as the special guest. Also featured were Patricia L. Bryan and Thomas Wolf, the authors of Midnight Assassin: A Murder in America’s Heartland (an account of the trial on which A Jury of Her Peers is based. It includes extensive quotes from Glaspell's original newspaper articles about the case).
The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond upon Thames began its association with the plays of Susan Glaspell in March 1996 when it presented her experimental drama The Verge. Starring Isla Blair as the compulsive horticulturist, a woman on the edge of madness or self-discovery, it was directed by Auriol Smith. During the same season the Orange Tree presented a lunchtime production of her one-act play Trifles in its Room Above the Pub, a murder mystery in which a group of housewives conceal damning evidence from the lawmen as an act of sisterly complicity with the victim’s wife.
A year later Sam Walters directed Inheritors in which the granddaughter of an American frontiersman (Lisa Stevenson) springs to the defence of three Hindu students, threatened with deportation. Again the main house production was accompanied by a lunchtime production, Glaspell’s 30-minute play The Outside, set in a lifesaving station on the outer shore of Cape Cod, with Anne Kirke taking the role originally played by the author, of a woman who has waited 20 years in virtual silence for the return of her seafaring husband.
In March 2008 the association was renewed with Kate Saxon’s Orange Tree revival of Chains of Dew — a play not seen anywhere since the Provincetown Players' premiere in 1922 — featuring Ruth Everett as a sparky New Yorker who carries her Birth Control campaign to a small, conservative Midwest town with unexpected results
In his 2008 programme note director Sam Walters wrote: "In 1996...I felt we had rediscovered a really important writer. Now whenever I talk to American students, which I do quite often, I try my 'Glaspell test'. I simply ask them if they have heard of her and almost always none of them have. Then I mention Trifles and some realise they have heard of that much anthologised short play. So even in her own country she is shamefully neglected. And when I type Glaspell on my computer it always wants to change it to Gaskell."