Owen Wister – The ‘Father’ of the Western Novel

800px-owen_wisterOwen Wister was an American writer who is credited with producing the first widely appreciated novel in the western genre. He was born on July 14, 1860 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to parents Owen Jones Wister and Sarah Butler Wister, and spent much of his youth going to school in several European countries. In 1898, Owen married his cousin, Mary Channing, and together they had six children before her death during childbirth in 1913.

Wister attended college at Harvard University in Cambridge, where he met and began a lifelong friendship with Theodore Roosevelt. After he graduated in 1882, Owen worked for a few years before returning to Harvard to study law. He practised in this area briefly, but his true love was politics and he passionately supported his old schoolmate’s campaign.

His interest in writing began when he was attending Harvard, where he was a member of The Hasty Pudding Theatricals. He wrote their most successful show of the era, Dido and Aeneas, and the proceeds went towards building their theatre. Having spent many summers on vacation in the western States during his college life, Wister fell in love with its culture, terrain and people. This became the motivation for his first novels which were centred on the cowboy and ranching lifestyles. His most popular novel, The Virginian, was published in 1902 and is considered the first in the genre, and the reason behind his title as ‘father of the western.’

On July 21, 1938 Owen Wister died in Saunderstown, Rhode Island and was subsequently buried in the Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia. He has left behind a legacy that includes the annual publication of a literary and arts magazine, Owen Wister Review, by the University of Wyoming Student Publications, and an 11,490 ft. mountain in the Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, named Mount Wister in his honour.