Known as an actress, director, educator and author, Claire Clemons Cowan was inducted into the 2005 University of Science and Arts’ Hall of Fame as part of Homecoming festivities Nov. 4-6.
A child of Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl, Cowan has traveled the world. Her earliest and continuing memories of Oklahoma have to do with a strong prairie wind and choking dust storms followed by mild, pleasant weather. She grew up in Oklahoma City in a strict, Southern Baptist home. Her mother saw to it that she had piano lessons and season tickets to the Oklahoma City Civic Orchestra.
“As a young adult in the 50s,” Cowan said. “one of the most important influences in my life was my time spent at the Oklahoma College for Women.”
As a drama major under Dean Frances Dinsmore Davis, Cowan appeared in eight plays and directed the summer opera program in 1957 and 1958. Some of Cowan’s fondest memories are of appearing in the annual Shakespearean play. She played Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
After completing her degree requirements in 1959, Cowan entered graduate school at Penn State University in State College, Pa.
Cowan began teaching high school English and drama in Beirut, Lebanon in 1961. She and her husband moved there just three years after the United States stepped in to settle a civil disorder. At American Community School of Beirut, a private prep school, she directed three plays a year and taught five different classes each day.
“When I decided to write short stories,” Cowan said. “I was 35-years-old and pressured by the philosophy of ‘publish or perish’ in academia.”
In 1972 now working for American University in Beirut, Cowan began writing short stories. In 1974, she was published with Dar al Qalam Press in Beirut – the publisher and distributor of Penguin Books. Her first book was a critical success and a second volume was planned. It took 30 years to produce it.
In those 30 years, Cowan moved back to the U.S. and focused on theatrical groups at Cedar Lane Stage and the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Md., and she raised two daughters. Both attended the University of Maryland. The elder is a modern dancer with DanceSmith in Washington, D.C. The younger is a scientist and an ecologist in Seattle.
Now a full-time writer, Cowan has more time to devote to her books and stories. She has written five children’s stories for her four grandchildren. She has written a third book of fiction and short stories as well as several plays and a volume of poetry. All could be published within the next several years.
One of Cowan’s stories scheduled for publication deals with the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, with which her husband has been diagnosed.
“When I studied playwriting at both Penn State and the University of Wisconsin, I learned that if I could not be a great playwright, I could at least be a timely one,” Cowan said. “I will continue to try to write timely fiction on the topics of my time. Alzheimer’s is one of those topics.”
Cowan was listed among the Best Poems of 1995 by the National Library of Poetry, Personalities of the South by the American Biographical Institute in 1981, and Outstanding Young Women of America in 1967.