Crescent Dragonwagon (1952–)

aka: Ellen Zolotow

Crescent Dragonwagon, born Ellen Zolotow, is the author of approximately fifty books and was one of the founders of Dairy Hollow House, one of the first bed-and-breakfast establishments in the Arkansas Ozarks. Her children’s books and her writings on food and cooking have won many awards.

Ellen Zolotow was born on November 25, 1952, in New York City. Her mother, Charlotte Zolotow, was a writer and editor of children’s books. Her father, Maurice Zolotow, wrote biographies of celebrities, including Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, and Billy Wilder. Zolotow attended school in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, but did not finish high school. She left home when she was sixteen years old, married Mark Parsons on March 20, 1970, and lived in a commune near Ava, Missouri, not far from the Arkansas border; they had no children. She published The Commune Cookbook in 1971.

As a feminist, Zolotow did not wish to use either her husband’s name or her father’s. She chose the name Crescent, signifying that she was still growing, and the couple adopted the name “Dragonwagon” as a statement that they were not taking themselves too seriously. After an interval in St. Louis, Missouri, she settled in Eureka Springs (Carroll County) in 1972. The marriage ended in divorce on August 10, 1975. Working as a cook in the restaurant of the Crescent Hotel, she became part of the arts and hospitality communities. She published a children’s book, When Light Turns into Night, in 1975.

In 1978, she married Ned Shank, an artist and historic preservationist; they had no children. Three years later, the couple, along with Little Rock (Pulaski County) musician Bill Haymes, established Dairy Hollow House, the first bed-and-breakfast in Eureka Springs and one of the first in the Ozark Mountains. In 1988, after they had expanded into several other buildings in the Hollow, they opened a restaurant celebrating local ingredients and a cuisine Dragonwagon called “Nouveau ’Zarks.”

Dragonwagon and Shank pioneered the organization of regional and national associations of innkeepers and the operators of similar establishments. By the time the inn closed in 1998, Dairy Hollow House had achieved a national reputation for creative food and for an Ozark variation on Southern hospitality. Dragonwagon published two other cookbooks in the 1970s. As executive chef at the Dairy Hollow restaurant, she wrote a string of notable cookbooks, beginning in 1986 with The Dairy Hollow House Cookbook, a collaboration with Jan Brown, another member of the culinary staff. Passionate Vegetarian (2002) received the James Beard award in the category “Vegetarian & Healthy Focus.” True to Ozark culinary tradition, she has written two books about beans and one about cornbread.

Another important aspect of Dragonwagon’s writing career is her books for children and young-adult readers. She has received recognition from the National Council of Teachers of English, the American Library Association, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and the New York Times. She has contributed articles to important American magazines and newspapers, including Cosmopolitan, Fine Cooking, Ladies’ Home Journal, Lear’s, McCall’s, the New York Times, and Organic Gardening.

In 1998, Dragonwagon told an interviewer that she was “a work in progress.” In that year, Dragonwagon and Shank began to establish the nonprofit Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow in the inn building, inspired in part by her experience at the Ossabaw Island Writers’ Retreat and as a Ragdale Foundation fellow. However, after Shank was killed in an accident on November 30, 2000, Dragonwagon severed her connection with Dairy Hollow and moved to Vermont. She continues to write for print publication and for the Internet and has created a method, “Fearless Writing,” which she teaches in workshops throughout the country.

In 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dragonwagon and her new husband, cybersecurity expert Mark Graff, began reading a children’s book aloud each night over the internet.

For additional information:
Crescent Dragonwagon. (accessed December 6, 2021).

Crescent Dragonwagon Papers. Butler Center for Arkansas Studies. Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock, Arkansas.

Crescent Dragonwagon Papers. University of Arkansas Special Collections. University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. (accessed December 6, 2021).

Crescent Dragonwagon Vertical File. Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Courtemanche-Ellis, Anne. “Arkansas Lives: Crescent Dragonwagon.” Arkansas Libraries 35 (March 1978): 25–33.

“Eureka’s Crescent Dragonwagon Is Noted Story Teller.” Springdale (Arkansas) News, December 5, 1976.

Halter, Deborah. “Crescent Dragonwagon.” Active Years (AY), December 1988, p. 14.

Martin-Brown, Becca. “An Oasis in Quarantine: Couple Offer Stories to Community.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, May 14, 2020. (accessed December 6, 2021).

Ethel C. Simpson
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Last Updated: 12/06/2021