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Sept. 11, 2002

 

CONTACT: Dr. Chris Lalonde, 312-2150

 

ENGLISH PROFESSOR PUBLISHES STUDY OF CONTEMPORARY NOVELIST

  OSWEGO -- Dr. Chris Lalonde, associate professor and chair of the English department at SUNY Oswego, is the author of the first book devoted to the work of Louis Owens, a novelist and literary scholar who died this summer.

  The University of Oklahoma Press published Lalonde's "Grave Concerns, Trickster Turns: The Novels of Louis Owens" in May. The book is part of the publisher's American Indian Literature and Critical Studies Series, which also includes several of Owens' books.

  How people -- especially Americans, more especially Native Americans -- identify and classify themselves and others is a persistent concern in Owens' works, Lalonde said. The writer's themes included home and displacement from it, stereotypes and how to overcome them.

  Owens' ancestry was Choctaw, Cherokee and Irish, and he identified himself as "a mixed blood American."

  "Louis tried to imagine that in-between space as a place of possibility and opportunity," Lalonde said. Owens rejected the cliche of the tragic half-breed, he noted.

  "He looked not just at native identity but at American national identity," Lalonde said.

  To illustrate his book, Lalonde traveled the West photographing places that play roles in Owens' novels.

  A professor of American literature at the University of California at Davis at the time of his death, Owens wrote his first two books in the 1980s about John Steinbeck's fiction before turning to fiction himself in 1991's "Wolfsong."

  "I was immediately taken by Louis' use of language, by the complex way in which the text articulated issues of mixed blood identity . . . and the possibilities of activism -- literary activism," Lalonde said. "Plus it was a darn good read."

  Owens went on to publish four more novels and was working on a sixth at the time of his apparent suicide in July at age 54.

  "It's an incalculable loss," Lalonde said. His book, described in testimonials on the jacket as a "groundbreaking" and "comprehensive study," is, it turns out, a more complete examination of Owens' novels than anyone could have predicted.

  Lalonde taught at North Carolina Wesleyan College from 1986 until 1999, when he came to Oswego. He was a Fulbright lecturer in American and Native American literature in Finland in 1997-98 and completed a draft of his book on Owens there. He is also the author of the 1996 book "William Faulkner and the Rites of Passage."

  "Grave Concerns, Trickster Turns" costs $34.95 from the publisher and is also available from Amazon.com.

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