Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Rochelle Owens began writing as a poet and has published several volumes of poetry as well as numerous poems in various journals and small magazines. Her poetry is lyric and metaphysical, depending heavily on juxtapositions that often involve fairly wide leaps between ideas or attitudes. In addition to conventional poetic devices, Owens makes considerable use of typographical devices: The spacing between words, phrases, and lines is important both to the sense and to the rhythm of her verse, and she often uses capitalization and punctuation (or the lack of it) in an arresting way, sometimes forming unusual patterns on the page with words or parts of words. These appear to be voice cues, and her voice is, as Toby Olson has written (in a symposium devoted to Owens’s work), the controlling element of her poetry. Wit and humor are also essential ingredients, but Owens is by no means a poet of the intellect only; her poetry conveys emotion and sensuality as she probes deeply into her subject, expressing her discoveries energetically if not always with the greatest lucidity.

Owens writes about a variety of subjects, but her chief interests are political and humanistic, combined, for example, in “Purple Worms of Vengeance,” a poem that contrasts a fat, gluttonous congressman with a poor Chicano child. In the same volume—I Am the Babe of Joseph Stalin’s Daughter: Poems, 1961-1971 (1972)—are a number of poems about her “Deebler Woman,”...

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Throughout her career, Rochelle Owens has received support for her writing from major foundations. In 1965, she received grants from the Rockefeller Office for Advanced Drama Research and the Ford Foundation. The next year she won a Creative Artists Public Service grant, and in 1968, she was awarded a Yale University Drama School fellowship. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1971 and a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1974, followed by a Rockefeller grant in 1975. Her plays have won Obie Awards in 1968, 1971, and 1982. She also received The Villager award for Chucky’s Hunch in 1982, a New York Drama Critics Circle award in 1983, and a Bellagio fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation, Italy, in 1993. She served as distinguished writer-in-residence at the University of Southwestern Louisiana in 1997. She has also taught creative writing at the University of Oklahoma and served as writer-in-residence for Brown Univeristy.

Critics have generally shown interest in her plays, which have been reviewed in The New York Times as well as The Village Voice, often with sympathy and sensitivity, despite their unconventional subject matter and sometimes surrealist manner. Her first successful play, Futz, was made into a motion picture by Tom O’Horgan, who directed several of Owens’s plays and who also wrote music for them. She is recognized as a major talent among Off-Broadway playwrights, and she is a founding member of the New York Theatre Strategy. Several of her plays were first produced by Café La Mama, either in New York or in Europe, where her work has attracted a considerable amount of critical attention, both favorable and unfavorable. Owens is a member of the Dramatists Guild, of the New Dramatists Committee, of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, and of the Authors Guild.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Cohn, Ruby. Dialogue in American Drama. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1971. Cohn labels Owens as one of the “poets at play.” Provides a strong discussion of Futz, Homo, and Beclch and concentrates on how Owens “renders her cruelty mainly through language.”

Marranca, Bonnie, and Gautam Dasgupta. American Playwrights: A Critical Survey. New York: Drama Book Specialists, 1981. Contains a chapter on Owens, beginning with her poetic output and continuing into a discussion of Futz, and an analysis of the “ethnopoetics” and the poetic language inherent in Beclch, Kontraption, and The Karl Marx Play.

Murray, Timothy. “The Play of Letters: Possession and Writing in Chucky’s Hunch.” In Feminine Focus: The New Women Playwrights, edited by Enoch Brater. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Murray examines the writing strategies of Owens in her 1981 play. Contains a long essay, divided by sections entitled “Self-Restoration,” “Oozing Signs, Early Memories,” “Primal Digressions,” and “Rebirth or Lack?” Notes.

Novick, Julius. Beyond Broadway: The Quest for Permanent Theatres. New York: Hill & Wang, 1968. Owens’s play Beclch is discussed in Artaudian terms. Owens, says Novick, in her attempt to shock, “generated a feeling of adolescent eagerness that was at odds with the somber impression she was trying to convey.” Good discussion of the relationship of experimental theater to its audience.

Olauson, Judith. The American Woman Playwright: A View of Criticism and Characterization. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1981. A feminist reevaluation of traditional literary views of women, divided by decades (Owens is in the 1960-1970 period with Megan Terry, Myrna Lamb, and others). Sees Owens as “a proponent of the ‘underground theatre’ movement.” Owens portrays her two main female characters in Futz as predators.