Owens, Virginia Stem 1941–
Owens, Virginia Stem 1941–
Born March 4, 1941, in Houston, TX; daughter of Clarence Lamar (in U.S. Air Force) and Esther (a secretary) Stem; married David Clinton Owens (a clergyman), December 26, 1959; children: Alyssa Claire, Amy Laury. Education: North Texas State University, B.A., 1965; University of Kansas, M.A., 1969; Iliff School of Theology, M.A.R., 1975. Religion: United Presbyterian.
Northeast Missouri State University, Kirksville, MO, instructor in English, 1969-70; writer, 1970—. Newman University, Wichita, KS, director of Milton Center, 1990-97. Member of editorial board, Books & Culture. Also worked as beekeeper, houseparent for mentally retarded boys, researcher, and library cataloger.
Texas Institute of Letters prize for best nonfiction book, 1990, for If You Do Love Old Men.
(Under pseudonym Eugenia Adams) Assault on Eden, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1978, 2nd revised edition published under name Virginia Stem Owens as Assault on Eden: A Memoir of Communal Life in the Early '70s, Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI), 1997.
The Total Image, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1980.
A Taste of Creation, Judson Press (Valley Forge, PA), 1980.
And the Trees Clap Their Hands, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1983.
A Feast of Families, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI), 1983.
Wind River Winter, Zondervan (Grand Rapids, MI), 1985.
If You Do Love Old Men, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 1990.
At Point Blank: A Suspense Novel, Baker Books (Dartmouth, MA), 1992.
Congregation: A Suspense Novel, Baker Books (Dartmouth, MA), 1992.
A Multitude of Sins: A Suspense Novel, Baker Books (Dartmouth, MA), 1993.
Daughters of Eve: Women of the Bible Speak to Women of Today, NavPress, 1995.
Looking for Jesus, Westminster John Knox Press (Louisville, KY), 1998.
(With husband, David Clinton Owens) Living Next Door to the Death House, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2003.
Praying with Beads: Daily Prayers for the Christian Year, Eerdmans (Grand Rapids, MI), 2007.
Caring for Mother: A Daughter's Long Goodbye, Westminster John Knox Press (Louisville, KY), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including Theology Today, Christian Century, One World, and Mother Earth News. Also author of blog, The God Spy.
"As a writer and thinker," stated a writer for Image magazine, "Virginia Stem Owens is a combination of Texan toughness (a la Ann Richards and Molly Ivins), intellectual curiosity (think Annie Dillard and Stephen Hawking), and literary grace (part Studs Terkel, part Graham Greene)." She has struggled with her own faith, her life, and her developing blindness, and has written about her life in books like Assault on Eden: A Memoir of Communal Life in the Early '70s, Daughters of Eve: Women of the Bible Speak to Women of Today, Looking for Jesus, and Caring for Mother: A Daughter's Long Goodbye. "When you read Virginia Stem Owens," the Image contributor concluded, "you're along for one helluva ride." "My general attitude toward life leads me to expect the worst," she told David Neff in Christianity Today. "When that doesn't happen, you can be pleasantly surprised." Neff added: "But don't think of her as a pessimist. Think of her as a survivor. Of her blindness she says, ‘It's something you absorb and go on.’" "In short," the Image writer declared, "she is a lady of parts."
Assault on Eden tells the story of Owens's encounter with communal living. She writes about the period she and her family spent living in a commune called Moriah in New Mexico, an experiment in group living, in which she "attempted to grow crops, raise animals, find love," explained a Publishers Weekly critic, "and enter the Garden of Delights through innocence and drugs." "Owens devotes a good deal of space," declared Timothy Miller in Utopian Studies, "to portraits of members of the commune and of relationships that wax and wane over time. The character sketches collectively provide a good reminder that the communes were inhabited by individual persons, not undifferentiated stereotypical sleazoid hippies, as so many contemporary popular press accounts that constituted most Americans' primary conduit of information about communes insinuated." The commune was a failure, both economically and socially; the members were inexperienced at farming, and the dry New Mexico soil was not easy to farm at best, while the ideal society that the members tried to create faltered on the rocks of poor health and broken relationships. "Owens seems to find her communal experience wanting, in retrospect, and pronounces true community impossible, given individualistic American cultural conditioning," Miller concluded, "but she nevertheless holds community out as a perfect ideal."
Daughters of Eve and Looking for Jesus are both character studies of personages from the Bible. "In Daughters of Eve," declared Jan Senn in Christianity Today, "Virginia Stem Owens challenges our preconceptions, exploring the stories of biblical women from a contemporary perspective." Through a combination of careful reading and historical imagination within context, Owens creates portraits of biblical women that speak to the condition of women today. "Even with centuries of change," Senn stated, "she finds that biblical women and their modern counterparts are more alike than different in the issues they face." In Looking for Jesus, said Mark Galli, reviewing the volume for Christianity Today, Owens "rehearses twenty-three Jesus stories ‘to illuminate and clarify the gospel narratives, while also making them permeable enough for entry.’" "The author asks all the hard questions about Jesus," stated a reviewer for the Presbyterian Record, "and provides no easy answers." Her "theological and imaginative interaction with these stories about Jesus and those who came to him," concluded reviewer Dwight N. Peterson in Interpretation, "will be helpful for anyone who preaches or teaches the Gospels to people who are also looking for Jesus."
Caring for Mother is Owens's personal account of her mother's final years suffering from Alzheimer's disease. She left her job with Newman University to move back to her home town so that she could help her father care for her mother in her illness. "Recognizing the gravity of the situation," explained Valerie Weaver-Zercher, writing in Books & Culture, "Owens moves into a house down the street from her parents and spends the next seven years taking her parents to doctors' appointments and helping her mother move into a nursing home, where she lives for five more years." "Owens and her father tended her mother a year and a half," Donna Chavez stated in Booklist, "before the illness demanded nursing-home care." "Accompanying her mother as she slowly drifts into a semi-dream state," Weaver-Zercher continued, "Owens ponders topics such as the medical establishment, caregiver fatigue, nursing home culture, brain chemistry, and Eastern and Western understandings of the self." "Relying on her extended metaphor of dementia as the rubble under which her mother is trapped," Weaver-Zercher concluded, "Owens suggests, ‘Do what you can to comfort with your presence when there is nothing else to be done. Like earthquake survivors waiting near those trapped in debris, simply stay.’" "Through essays as incisive and insightful as [Joan] Didion's," declared a critic writing for Publishers Weekly, "this account succeeds on multiple levels: medical detective story, personal memoir, flawless description, philosophical and spiritual exploration."
Virginia Stem Owens writes: "I've never wanted to do anything but write—except for reading. Unfortunately, I never had anything to write about until my nebulous and somewhat insubstantial life coalesced in the cosmic drama of Christ. I was at one time involved in radical politics, the women's movement, ecology activism, etc. Now I have no causes, although I retain my horror of our technological society. At this point I have no desire to influence either society or individuals. I'm only interested in how the story turns out.
"I have an east Texas background rich in the oral tradition of story-telling. Thanks to affluence and television, that will not survive my generation. Sic transit gloria. My family is very important to me, almost mythologically so. We are like secret refugees from some unarticulated homeland."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 2007, Donna Chavez, review of Caring for Mother: A Daughter's Long Goodbye, p. 7.
Books & Culture, September 1, 2007, "Simply Stay," p. 11.
Christian Century, October 29, 1980, Burton Everist, review of The Total Image, p. 1041.
Christianity Today, December 11, 1987, Larry Sibley, review of Wind River Winter, p. 58; November 19, 1990, Wayne Brouwer, review of If You Do Love Old Men, p. 39; August 14, 1995, Jan Senn, review of Daughters of Eve: Women of the Bible Speak to Women of Today, p. 43; May 24, 1999, Mark Galli, review of Looking for Jesus, p. 81; May 21, 2001, "A Real Survivor," p. 9; May, 2003, "Tough Justice in Texas," p. 70; September, 2007, John Wilson, review of Caring for Mother, p. 100.
Interpretation, October, 2000, Dwight N. Peterson, review of Looking for Jesus, p. 438.
Library Journal, August, 1980, Elsie C. Dennis, review of The Total Image, p. 1646; April 15, 1983, review of And the Trees Clap Their Hands, p. 831; June 1, 1987, Elise Chase, review of Wind River Winter, p. 120; February 15, 1995, Carolyn Craft, review of Daughters of Eve, p. 160.
Other Side, September, 2000, review of Looking for Jesus, p. 46.
Presbyterian Record, November, 1991, review of If You Do Love Old Men, p. 35; March, 2000, review of Looking for Jesus, p. 45.
Publishers Weekly, May 8, 1995, review of Assault on Eden: A Memoir of Communal Life in the Early '70s, p. 60; April 9, 2007, review of Caring for Mother, p. 48.
Reference & Research Book News, November, 2003, review of Living Next Door to the Death House, p. 155.
Utopian Studies, spring, 1997, Timothy Miller, review of Assault on Eden, p. 163.
Image,http://www.imagejournal.org/ (January 28, 2008), author biography.