Louis Owens Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The works of Louis Dean Owens, a novelist and cultural critic of mixed Choctaw, Cherokee, Irish, and French ancestry, express observations from his mixed-blood perspective about contemporary American culture, with a particular focus on ethnicity and class. He was the son of Hoey Louis and Ida Brown Louis, who had nine children. Hoey Louis worked at various jobs, including farm labor, managing a chicken ranch, dowsing for a well-driller, working in a laundry, and driving a truck. Ida Louis sometimes worked as a waitress. The family moved back and forth between Mississippi, where they lived in a two-room cabin on the Yazoo River, and California, where they lived in the Santa Lucia mountains, the Salinas Valley, San Leandro, and finally, Atascadero. Owens wrote autobiographically of his working-class childhood and his family history in Mixedblood Messages and I Hear the Train. He worked at various places from the age of nine, including in fields, a chicken ranch, a mushroom farm, and a can factory.

Gene Owens, Louis’s older brother, was the first member of the extended family to graduate from high school, and Louis Owens became the second. He attended community college for two years, then was admitted to the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), under an equal opportunity program. He worked summers fighting fires for the United States Forest Service. While at UCSB he met Kiowa novelist and professor N. Scott Momaday, who influenced Owens to pursue his study of American Indian literature. Owens received his B.A. in 1971 and an M.A. in English in 1974. In 1975, he married his wife, Polly, whom he had met while a student at UCSB; they would have two daughters, Elizabeth and Alexandra.

Owens began and then dropped out of a graduate program...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Daniel, G. Reginald. Review of Mixedblood Messages: Literature, Film, Family, Place, by Louis Owens. Biography 23, no. 3 (Summer, 2000): 572-578. Mixedblood Messages examines issues related to American Indian identity in literature and film; this review shows how, more importantly, Owens’s telling of his own experiences challenges “all humans to articulate . . . messages of individual and collective survival.”

Lalonde, Chris. Grave Concerns, Trickster Turns: The Novels of Louis Owens. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002. A study of Owens’s fiction.

Owens, Louis. I Hear the Train: Reflections, Inventions, Refractions. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001. Autobiography covers Owens’s family history and childhood.

Studies in American Indian Literatures 10, no. 2 (1998). This special issue of the journal is dedicated to Owens’s work.