Owings, Alison 1944-
OWINGS, Alison 1944-
PERSONAL: Born June 17, 1944, in Pasadena, CA; daughter of Kenneth Brown and Alice Case. Education: Attended Freiberg University, 1964-65; American University, B.A., 1966.
ADDRESSES: Home and office—145 Richardson Dr., Mill Valley, CA 94941-2413.
CAREER: Author and journalist. Congressional Quarterly, Washington, DC, writer and researcher, 1966; Democratic National Committee, Washington, DC, researcher, 1966-67; ABC, Washington, DC, news assistant, 1967-69; WRC-TV, Washington, DC, associate producer of documentary series, 1969-71; WNBC-TV, New York, NY, associate producer, 1971-73; CBS, New York, NY, television newswriter, 1973-77; freelance television newswriter, 1982-99; freelance editor, 1999—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Resident writer, Edna St. Vincent Millay Colony for the Arts, 1977; newswriting award, Writers Guild of America, 1977; travel/research grant, West German Press Office, 1985; John J. McCloy fellow, American Council on Germany, 1987.
The Wander Woman's Phrasebook: How to Meet or Avoid People in Three Romance Languages, Shameless Hussey Press (Berkeley, CA), 1987.
Hey, Waitress! The USA from the Other Side of the Tray, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: After a long journalistic career, including a stint at WRC-TV in Washington, D.C., where she helped organize an anti-discrimination action to protest the limited opportunities of female journalists in the early 1970s, Alison Owings began to publish more in-depth books featuring women's issues. The first was the fairly lighthearted Wander Woman's Phrasebook: How to Meet or Avoid People in Three Romance Languages, to help women travelers navigate their way through stressful situations in French, Spanish, or Italian.
More serious was Owings's next book, Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich, "a unique glimpse into the life of German women whose voices under the Hitler regime have until now been silent," according to History Today reviewer June Purvis. Owings's range of interview subjects is very broad indeed, from Jewish Holocaust survivors to widows of Nazi party members, and even female camp guards. "No German Everywoman appears here," wrote Whole Earth Review contributor Andrew Needham. "Instead, we are met by a vast range of people and memories—from classic Jew-haters to Communist resisters." The very diversity of the women's voices, from rich to poor, from Jewish to virulently anti-Semitic, provides a panoramic view of the Third Reich, although with some of the limitations inherent to oral history. "Like all works of oral history, Frauen is a reconstruction of the past in light of the present. There can be no direct access to the lives of women in the Nazi era, for lived experiences are fleeting," wrote R. Ruth Linden in the Women's Review of Books. "Still, these oral histories possess an integrity and textual consistency that we might regard as narrative truth. They reveal an unfolding process in which past and present, teller, listener and reader become intertwined." Interestingly, only one non-Jewish woman admits to hearing about the gassings during the war.
Owings followed this up with another work of cultural history, this time exploring the experiences of women in the everyday world of the American restaurant. In Hey Waitress! The USA from the Other Side of the Tray Owings provides a brief history of the profession from eighteenth-century taverns to the present proliferation of cafes, diners, and restaurants while exploring the depictions of waitresses in movies and popular books. The heart of the book consists of interviews with a large cross-section of waitresses: a former Connecticut housewife fleeing an abusive marriage, a woman who tells a story of working at Woolworth's at the time of the civil rights sit-ins, and even a nun. "Owings' conversational style, humor, and empathy make this an absorbing look at the American landscape through the eyes of an often overlooked group of workers," wrote Vanessa Bush in Booklist. For Library Journal contributor Janice Dunham, "Judicious editing also makes the book compelling: each waitress is full of insights about her life and her life's work." "Owings presents her findings with compassion and wit and a sense of feminist indignation that doesn't detract from her journalistic balance," concluded a Publishers Weekly contributor.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 2002, review of Hey Waitress! The USA from the Other Side of the Tray p. 34.
History Today, August, 1996, June Purvis, review of Frauen: German Women Recall the Third Reich, p. 60.
Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 2002, review of Hey Waitress!, p. 862.
Library Journal, August, 2002, Janice Durham, review of Hey Waitress!, p. 124.
Publishers Weekly, July 1, 2002, review of Hey Waitress!, p. 65.
Smithsonian, April, 2003, Donald Dale Jackson, review of Hey Waitress!, p. 126.
Whole Earth Review, fall, 1985, Andrew Needham, review of Frauen, p. 60.
Women's Review of Books, December, 2002, Linda Grant Niemann, review of Hey Waitress!, p. 16.*