Owens, William A. 1905-1990

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OWENS, William A. 1905-1990

PERSONAL: Born November 2, 1905, in Pin Hook, TX; died, December 8, 1990, of complications from Alzheimer's disease, in Nyack, NY; buried in Nyack, NY; son of Charles and Jessie Ann (Chennault) Owens; married Ann Slater Wood, December 23, 1946; children: Jessie Ann, David Edward. Education: East Texas State Teachers College, earned teaching certificate; Southern Methodist University, B.A., 1932, M.A., 1933; University of Texas, postgraduate study, 1936; State University of Iowa, Ph.D., 1941; Columbia University, postdoctoral study, 1945-46. Politics: Independent. Religion: Episcopalian.

CAREER: Teacher in Lamar County, TX, schools, 1928-30; Greenville High School, Greenville, TX, teacher, 1934-35; Wesley College, Greenville, TX, instructor in English, 1935-36; Mississippi State College (now Mississippi State University), instructor in English, 1936; Robert E. Lee High School, Goose Creek, TX, teacher of English, 1936-37; The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas (now Texas A & M University), College Station, started as instructor, 1937, became associate professor of English, 1941-47, writer in residence, 1976; Columbia University, New York, NY, associate professor and director of summer session, 1947-66, professor of English, 1966-74, dean of summer session, 1969-74, dean emeritus, 1974-81. University of Texas, director of research for folk materials, 1941, and director of the Oral History of Texas Oil Pioneers, 1952-58. Lecturer in the National Humanities Series, Princeton University, 1971-73; visiting professor of English, University of Texas at Austin, summer, 1978. Military service: U.S. Army, 1942-45; served in Counter Intelligence Corps; became second lieutenant; received Legion of Merit.

MEMBER: American Association of University Professors, Modern Language Association of America, Texas Institute of Letters, Texas Folklore Society, Phi Beta Kappa.

AWARDS, HONORS: Texas Institute of Letters Award, 1954, for Walking on Borrowed Land, 1966, for This Stubborn Soil, and 1985, for continuing excellence in Texas letters; Southwest Library Association's award for best nonfiction book, 1974, for Season of Weathering; National Endowment for the Humanities fellow, 1974-75.


Swing and Turn: Texas Play Party Games, Tardy Publishing (Dallas, TX), 1936.

(Compiler) Texas Folk Songs, musical arrangements by Willa Mae Kelly Koehn, Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 1950, revised and enlarged edition with musical transcriptions by daughter, Jessie Ann Owens, University of North Texas Press, 1976.

Slave Mutiny: The Revolt on the Schooner Amistad, John Day (New York, NY), 1953, published as Black Mutiny: The Revolt on the Schooner Amistad, Pilgrim Press (Philadelphia, PA), 1968.

Walking on Borrowed Land (novel), Bobbs-Merrill (New York, NY), 1954, reprinted, Texas Christian University Press (College Station, TX), 1988.

Fever in the Earth, Putnam (New York, NY), 1958, reprinted, Shearer Publications, 1984.

Pocantico Hills, 1609-1959, Sleepy Hollow Restorations (Tarrytown, NY), 1960.

(Editor) Energy and Man, Appleton, 1960.

Look to the River, Atheneum (New York, NY), 1963, reprinted, Texas Christian University Press (College Station, TX), 1988.

This Stubborn Soil (autobiography), Scribner (New York, NY), 1966, published as This Stubborn Soil: A Frontier Boyhood, Faber (London, England), 1967.

Three Friends: Roy Bedichek, J. Frank Dobie, Walter Prescott Webb, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1969, reprinted as Three Friends, Bedichek, Dobie, Webb: A Personal History, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1975.

(With Mody C. Boatwright) Tales from the Derrick Floor: A People's History of the Oil Industry, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1970.

A Season of Weathering (autobiography), Scribner (New York, NY), 1973.

A Fair and Happy Land, Scribner (New York, NY), 1975.

Sing Me a Song, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1983.

Tell Me a Story, Sing Me a Song: A Texas Chronicle, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1983.

Eye-Deep in Hell: A Memoir of the Liberation of the Philippines, 1944-45, Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 1989.

Also author, with Michael Frary, of Impressions of the Big Thicket, 1973, and The Letters of Ray Bedichek, 1985. Contributor to books, including Writers' Roundtable, edited by Helen Hull and Michael Drury, Harper (New York, NY), 1959; And Horns on the Toads, edited by Mody C. Boatright, Wilson M. Hudson, and Allen Maxwell, Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 1959; and Three Men in Texas, edited by Ronnie Dugger, University of Texas Press (Austin, TX), 1967. Author of introduction, The Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi by Joseph G. Baldwin, Sagamore Press (New York, NY), 1957, and Native Son by Richard Wright, Harper (New York, NY), 1957. Contributor to Southwest Review, Contemporary Arts in the South and Southwest, Asia and the Americas, Epoch, Ladies Homes Journal, Tomorrow Magazine, New-Story, Southwest Review, Saturday Review, New York Times Book Review, Texas Observer, Du Pont Magazine, and other periodicals. The Cushing Memorial Library at Texas A & M University holds Owens's personal papers, including his personal correspondence, books, book manuscripts, book reviews, articles, short stories, speeches, photographs, and aluminum disc recordings made by Owens of various folksingers and musicians in the South.

SIDELIGHTS: William A. Owens is especially remembered for his work on the origins of American folk songs. In his book Texas Folk Songs Owens gathered some 135 traditional songs from throughout Texas, including ballads, love songs, comic songs, children's songs, and African-American spirituals. Owens dedicated the songs, he wrote in the book, to "those who love to sing them as well as for those who have an interest in the past." In addition to his writings on folk music, Owens also authored Black Mutiny: The Revolt on the Schooner Amistad, an account of the historic slave revolt. The book served as a major reference source for a film adaptation in 1997. Owens also wrote an account of the liberation of the Philippines during World War II, based on his own experiences there as an American intelligence officer.

Owens was born in the cotton country of rural Texas in 1905. His father died a few days after his birth. "It was from his mother that he learned the values of hard work and self reliance," a biographer of Owens noted in an essay posted on the Texas A & M University's Cushing Memorial Library Web site. "In addition, he acquired a love of reading and a desire to obtain an education beyond the one-room schoolhouses of Lamar County." He worked odd jobs to pay for his schooling. After obtaining a teaching certificate from the East Texas State Teachers College, Owens went on to earn bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. He taught at high schools and colleges throughout Texas before taking a position with Columbia University, where he stayed for some twenty-five years. Owens also served as the director of research in folk materials and director of the Oral History of Texas Oil Pioneers project for the University of Texas.



Lee, James W., editor, William A. Owens: A Symposium, Trilobite Press (Denton, TX), 1981.

Owens, William A., A Season of Weathering (autobiography), Scribner (New York, NY), 1973.

Owens, William A., Eye-Deep in Hell: A Memoir of the Liberation of the Philippines, 1944-45, Southern Methodist University Press (Dallas, TX), 1989.

Owens, William A., This Stubborn Soil (autobiography), Scribner (New York, NY), 1966, reprinted, Random House (New York, NY), 1989.


American Petroleum Institute Quarterly, spring, 1958, J. Frank Dobie, "What It Felt Like to Be There," pp. 42-43.

Library Journal, February 1, 1998, Michael Rogers, review of Black Mutiny, p. 118; April 1, 1998, Nancy Paul, review of audiocassette version of Black Mutiny, p. 141A.

Listener, November 30, 1967.

Southwest Review, winter, 1955, Roy Bedichek, "Tension of Jim Crow," pp. 84-86; winter, 1967, Mody C. Boatright, "Hard Times and Good in Old Pin Hook," pp. 99-101.


Texas A & M University's Cushing Memorial Library Web site,http://library.tamu.edu/cushing/ (December 10, 2002), "Selected Bibliography of William A. Owens" and "Biography."

University of North Texas Press Web site,http://www.unt.edu/ (December 10, 2002).



New York Times, December 12, 1990.*

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