Rochelle Bass Owens was born on April 2, 1936, in Brooklyn, New York. As a young girl, Owens embraced the arts, showing an early interest in art, ballet, and poetry.
Owens graduated from Lafayette High School in 1953 and moved to Manhattan, where she briefly studied poetry at The New School and acting at HB Studio. She became a part of the Beat scene in Greenwich Village, as well as the early ethnopoetics movement, and eventually became involved with the start of the St. Marks Poetry Project and Deux Megot reading series.
Throughout the 1960s, Owens published poems in a number of small publications, including Yugen, a poetry magazine published by LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka), and her popularity grew as she became involved in theater. Known as one of the pioneers of experimental off-off-Broadway theater, Owens has written several plays that have been cited for their imagination, innovative language, and controversial themes. In 1969, her first play, Futz, was made into a film, and her plays have been presented worldwide.
Owens has published over a dozen books of poetry, the most recent of which include Hermaphropoetics, Drifting Geometries (Singing Horse Press, 2017); Out of Ur: New and Selected Poems 1961–2012 (Shearsman Books, 2013); Solitary Workwoman (Junction Press, 2011); and Luca: Discourse on Life and Death (Junction Press, 2001).
Of her work, poet Jerome Rothenberg has written: “There is a voice in Owens’ work ... like a fierce and unrelenting force of nature. Sharp and visual, she combines a landscape with a poetics, the domestic with the mythic, machines with the organic living world from which arises a construct and a fused vision: poetry and life.”
Owens has received fellowships from the Ford Foundation, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation (Bellagio Center), among others. She has taught at the University of California, San Diego, and the University of Oklahoma.
She lives with her husband, poet and translator George Economou, in Wellfleet, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia.