At first he aspired to a career in music and spent two years studying at a Paris conservatory. Thereafter, he worked briefly in a bank in New York before studying law; he graduated from Harvard Law School in 1888. Following this, he practiced with a Philadelphia firm but was never truly interested in that career. He was interested in politics, however, and was a staunch supporter of U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt.
Wister began his literary work in 1882, publishing The New Swiss Family Robinson, a parody of the 1812 novel The Swiss Family Robinson. It was so well received that Mark Twain wrote a letter to Wister praising it.
Wister had spent several summers in the American West, making his first trip to the Territory of Wyoming in 1885, planning to shoot big game, fish trout, meet the Indians, and spend nights in the wild. Like his friend Teddy Roosevelt, Wister was fascinated with the culture, lore and terrain of the region. He was "...struck with wonder and delight, had the eye to see and the talent to portray the life unfolding in America. After six journeys [into the dying 'wild west'] for pleasure, he gave up the profession of law...", and became the writer he is better known as. On an 1893 visit to Yellowstone National Park, Wister met the western artist Frederic Remington, who remained a lifelong friend.
When he started writing, Wister naturally inclined towards fiction set on the western frontier. His most famous work remains the 1902 novel The Virginian, a complex mixture of persons, places and events dramatized from experience, word of mouth, and his own imagination – ultimately creating the archetypalcowboy, who is a natural aristocrat, set against a highly mythologized version of the Johnson County War, and taking the side of the large landowners. This is widely regarded as being the first cowboy novel, though modern scholars argue that this distinction belongs to Emma Ghent Curtis's The Administratrix, published over ten years earlier).The Virginian was reprinted fourteen times in eight months. It stands as one of the top 50 best-selling works of fiction and is considered by Hollywood experts to be the basis for the modern fictional cowboy portrayed in literature, film and television.
In 1898, Wister married Mary Channing, his cousin. The couple had six children. Channing died during childbirth in 1913. Their daughter, Marina Wister, married artist Andrew Dasburg in 1933.
Since 1978, University of Wyoming Student Publications has published the literary and arts magazine Owen Wister Review. The magazine was published bi-annually until 1996 and became an annual publication in the spring of 1997.
Near a house that Wister built near La Mesa, California, but never occupied due to his wife's death, is a street called Wister Drive. In the same neighborhood are Virginian Lane and Molly Woods Avenue (named for a character in The Virginian). All of those streets were named by Wister himself.
Watch Your Thirst: A Dry Opera in Three Acts (1923)
The Dragon of Wantley (unpublished)
The Honeymoonshiners (published in the story collection Safe in the Arms of Croesus)
Lin McLean (unpublished)
Slaves of the Ring (unpublished)
That Brings Luck (unpublished)
The Virginian (unpublished)
Works inspired by The Virginian
Many movie industry historians will agree that most, if not all, westerns can be claimed to contain influences from The Virginian. It is nearly universally accepted that the "Hollywood cowboy" was, and still is, based on this book.
^Wister-Stokes, Fanny (1958). "Preface". Owen Wister Out West; His Journals and Letters (1st ed.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. XI. No ISBN. Library Congress #: 58-9609
^Wister, Owen. Wister, Fanny (ed.). "Owen Wister Out West His Journals and Letters". One (1st). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Preface. Lib of Congress # 58-9609Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
^Lamont, Victoria (August 2016). "Western Violence and the Limits of Sentimental Power". Westerns : a women's history. Lincoln, NB. ISBN9780803290310. OCLC951678430.