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AFTERWORD I BY DON GRAHAM Owens Country El1r his past year, 2005, marked the centennial of Texas author William A. Owens home country, northeast Texas, they remembered. On November 9-11, at a conference hosted jointly by Texas A&M University-Commerce and Paris Junior College, family, friends, scholars, and the general public came together to celebrate the life and work of the man from Pin Hook. This is a part of Texas I know well, having grown up on a cotton farm in Collin County, two counties southwest of where Owens lived and therefore considerably closer to that magnet of cosmopolitanism for country youth in those days. Dallas. Owens’ early life, like mine, was one of cotton farming culture, on blackland prairie, where the crops were best, or on sandy land, where they were not. On my way to Commerce, I saw with surprise that the Audie L. Murphy Cotton Museum, formerly located on the square, had moved to a location south of town, the better to entice visitorschildren who have grown up without cotton fields forever or their grandparents on a nostalgia trip. Greenville, it will be recalled, was once known round the world because of the famous sign over Lee Street that circulated globally in the form of a picture postcard: Welcome to Greenville/The Blackest Land/The Whitest People. I first met Bill Owens in the late 1970s, when he came to the University of Texas to offer a summer course in the English Department. I was teaching that session as well, but we didn’t meet until a friend of his, Tom Hatfield, Director of the Extension Program then his office. I wasn’t sure why I was invited, but I was eager to meet Owens. Bill was very friendly and energetic, and the first thing he did was to query me about what he felt was the shabby treat ment he had received in the English Department. The Chairman had not welcomed him, he said; in fact nobody had. He wanted to know why. I told him, Shoot, that’s the way the English Department treats everybody. I told him if Jesus H. Christ his own self got a teaching job there, they’d treat him the same way. I said, Bill, no need to take it personally. Years later, I could have muttered the swaggering mantra of the present: We’re Texas. I don’t remember now what the luncheon was about; Hatfield and Owens had some plan in mind for a book, but I didn’t see how I fit into it. Still, I very much enjoyed talking to Bill Owens, and in the years to come I saw him from time to time. Once was at North Texas when they held a symposium on his work. This was in 1981. They published a little collection of the talks from that day. My subject was Owens’ remarkable autobiographical project, beginning with This Stubborn Soil followed by A Season of Weathering. My remarks were in the nature of a preliminary assessment, as later there would be two more volumes added to the list. From time to time Owens would blow into town, and I use the word blow deliberately. He was always in motion and he came in like a spring showerfreshening and invigoratingand what I remember most is that he’d call and say you want to have lunch, and I’d say yes, and directly there’d be another call, moving the time because there was going to be somebody else at lunch, and finally it would be all set and there would be three or four people for lunch. Owens didn’t want to waste lunch on one person; he had about five irons in the fire every time I saw him and he wanted that lunch to be productive. I saw him again in 1983 when he came to a big conference on Texas writing that was held at the University of Texas. He delivered a talk titled “Regionalism and Universality,” providing an overview of his career. His main point was the need to leave one’s region in order to apprehend a larger world. He described the limitations of his early views in a manner familiar to most people who grew up in rural Texas: “All that time I was an unreconstructed southerner, as well as a Texas chauvinist of the J. Frank Dobie persuasion, with no waverings at all until I traveled in the world north of the Red River and encountered other ways of thinking.” And from that conference, I find, in my copy of Tell Me a Story, Sing Me a Song \(the third volume of his autobiographical projWith deep admiration and appreciation for a wholly satisfactory symposium on Texas traditions, and all there are to come in the future. William A. Owens.” I don’t remember the last time I saw Bill Owens. By the time he came to publish Eye-Deep in Hell in 1989, the fourth volume of his autobiographical memoir, I was publishing, that same year, my own book about WWII, a biography of another kid, Audie Murphy, who grew up in a cotton field as Owens hadpoor and hungry for a wider world. I did not read Owens’ book at that timein fact I just read it for the first time a couple of months agoand I have no idea whether Owens read my biography or not. Probably not. He was beginning to fail, and he died the next year. The future that Owens alluded to in that inscription back in 1983 is now here, 23 years later. By this time you’d think that Owens’ place in Texas letters would be secure. After all, there aren’t many books in the same league with This Stubborn Soil. John Graves, for example, has called it “one of the best books ever written about our part of the world.” Yet Owens belongs to the part of Texas that keeps being forgot FEBRUARY 24, 2006 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 29