Louis Owens and John Steinbeck's Ghosts

A mystery solved with the help of a professor and a mobster's musician

Louis agreed, and he tried to spread word among others in the field about what I'd found. But it was soon to become a period of transition for us both. Louis was already spending less time on Steinbeck, and more on his novels and other Native American writers. And within a year, I would move away and start a new career in newspapers. Louis was very encouraging about that, and he also sounded very optimistic about his own move to Davis. But as time went on, we began to write each other less.

In 2000, my grandfather succumbed to his various ailments at the age of 85. At his funeral, I read a eulogy about his entire history, scandalizing one of my uncles, though my many cousins seemed to appreciate it—most of them had never heard about the broken leg, the strike, the gangsters.

Román had passed away four years earlier, in 1996. My grandmother held on until 2005.

Louis Owens  won the American Book Award in 1997 for his novel Nightland.
Louis Owens won the American Book Award in 1997 for his novel Nightland.
Tony and Virginia swore that Lucky Luciano took in  one of their nightclub shows.
Tony and Virginia swore that Lucky Luciano took in one of their nightclub shows.


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LOUIS OWENS, 1948-2002

  • His Wikipedia page
  • A beautiful description of Owens, written by one of his best friends, former San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Glen Martin
  • An excellent, lengthy interview with Owens conducted by Western Washington University professor John Purdy

    The Novels

  • Wolfsong, 1995
  • The Sharpest Sight, 1995
  • Bone Game, 1996
  • Nightland, 1996
  • Dark River, 1999
  • Related Stories

    More About

    In 2002, Louis shot himself in the heart.

    I'll never know what was going through his mind in those last moments, but as I was finishing this article, I chanced upon an interview that he gave in 1998 to Western Washington University professor John Purdy for the journal Studies in American Indian Literatures. In it, Louis talked about his interest in returning to Steinbeck, possibly to write a book on his importance as an early ecologist, before noting that Steinbeck is one writer who has always been very popular with Native Americans.

    "I think it's because his worldview is very close to what you might find in those communities," Louis said, "and what Steinbeck is arguing in his writing is that we have to be responsible for what he terms the whole thing, known and unknowable, in a very deep way: that if you step into a tide pool, you have to realize that that step has changed the entire universe . . . that every single act of humanity changes the world. Steinbeck was arguing that sixty years ago, before anybody in white America really was, so I'm thinking about going back and doing some more work on Steinbeck . . . and then as far as fiction is concerned, I may not write any more."

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