ENCAMPMENT, Wyo. – Irene Bennett Brown, a Kansas native known for her historical and juvenile novels, will receive the 2022 Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Contributions to Western Literature, Western Writers of America has announced.
“Irene Bennett Brown’s contribution to the Western genre is significant,” WWA President Chris Enss said. “She pulls readers into the stories of the Old West by means of true emotion and vivid detail. Her plots feature strong characters, such as Larnie in the book Skitterbrain and Jocelyn Royal in Miss Royal’s Mules. Like Irene, those Western heroes show stubborn determination and fierce integrity. WWA is honored to have her in its community and pleased to name her as the latest Wister Award winner.”
Brown, 90, will also be inducted into the Western Writers Hall of Fame, housed outside the McCracken Research Library at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyo.
“Never once did I imagine I’d be honored with the renowned Owen Wister Award,” Brown said from her Jefferson, Oregon, home, where she lives with her husband, Bob, a retired research chemist. “I’m dumbfounded, delighted and deeply grateful.”
The nonprofit guild’s highest honor is scheduled to be presented during WWA’s convention June 22-25 in Great Falls, Montana.
Brown’s novel Before the Lark won WWA’s Spur Award for Best Western Juvenile Book in 1982, was a Junior Literary Guild Selection and was nominated for the Mark Twain Award. Two adult sequels to that novel, Miss Royal’s Mules (2018) and Tangled Times (2020), won Will Rogers Medallion Awards.
Author of more than 20 books, Brown’s first novel, To Rainbow Valley, was published in 1969. Other titles include Willow Whip (1979), Morning Glory Afternoon (1981), The Plainswoman (1994) and Where Danger Danced (2012). She has enjoyed using her home state as background for her historical novels.
“Irene Bennett Brown and her lifelong work in the field of Western literature embody the very essence of that for which the Owen Wister Award was founded,” said WWA Vice President Phil Mills Jr., chair of WWA’s Owen Wister Award committee. “She has earned her place among the best of those writers who have found their creative home in the American West.”
Since the early 1950s, WWA has honored and promoted all forms of literature about the American West. Previous Owen Wister honorees include Pulitzer Prize winner N. Scott Momaday; historians Eve Ball and Robert M. Utley; and bestselling novelists Rudolfo Anaya, Elmore Leonard, Tony Hillerman and Lucia St. Clair Robson.
“I’ve gained so much from Western Writers of America’s conventions,” Brown said, “from how to research when writing historical Westerns, creating fascinating characters, to connecting with an editor and the essentials in a contract for publication.”
The Wister Award is a bronze statue of a bison created especially for WWA by artist Robert Duffie.