John Rowlands taught at both Trinity College, Carmarthen and St David’s University College, where he became Senior Lecturer in Welsh in 1973.
He was born on 14 August 1938 on a farm in Trawsfynbydd, Gwynedd. From a young age his parents encouraged him to read and discuss literature, and he regularly took part in the local Eisteddfod. He attended Blaenau Ffestiniog Grammar School and was a contemporary of the writer, playwright and broadcaster Gwyn Thomas. Rowlands took his degree at Bangor University, graduating with a first class honours in Welsh in 1959. His MA was on Delweddau Dafydd ap Gwilym (The Images of Dafydd ap Gwilym), after which he received a University of Wales Fellowship to study at Jesus College, Oxford, between 1961-63. He was awarded his DPhil for A Critical Edition and Study of the Welsh Poems written in Praise of the Salusburies of Llyweni, which was published in 1967.
In 1960 whilst still a student, Rowlands was inspired to begin writing by the playwright and critic John Gwilym Jones. His early Welsh language novels, Lle Bo’r Gwenyn (1960) and Yn Ôl l’w Teyrnasoedd (1963) earned him a reputation as one of Wale’s few examples of the ‘Angry Young Men’. Whilst his third novel, lenctid yw ʼMhechod (1965) caused as great a stir in Wales as Lady Chatterley’s Lover had in England five years earlier. Rowlands early work, generally set in a bleak modern world, were concerned with the human psychology, portraying vulnerable and isolated individuals, suffocated by traditions. His entry in the Oxford Companion to the Literature of Wales, comments on his explicit handling of sexual scenes and his insights into the behaviour of young people. One such example is Arch ym Mhrâg (1972) written when Rowlands was lecturing at St David’s University College. The novel is about the awaking political liberation of a group of young people living in Czechoslovakia in 1968. However, later in his career his work encompassed both comedy and tragedy. He wrote the satirical novel Tician Tician (1968), about life in a Welsh university town, in which the main character, a young lecturer, was based on himself.
The novel also explored the crisis faced by the Welsh language, which was a subject of great importance to Rowlands. He edited Sglefrio ar Eiriau in 1992 which brought together eight critics to discuss various aspects of contemporary Welsh literature. In 2000 he contributed Y Sêr yn eu Graddau to the series the Welsh Mind and Imagination, which considered the Welsh modern novel. Three years later Rowlands co-edited the Bloodaxe Book of Modern Welsh Poetry: Twentieth-Century Welsh Language Poetry in Translation. His interests however, were diverse and he wrote and co-authored a number of books on Welsh genealogy, as well as numerous publications on Welsh history and local history. Rowlands also wrote a monograph on the author T. Rowlands Hughes, for the series Writers of Wales, one of his few English language books.
This considerable output was combined with teaching. Rowlands taught at Swansea, Trinity College, Carmarthen, Bangor University and St David’s University College. In 1975 he was appointed lecturer for the Department of Welsh at Aberystwyth University, becoming Senior Lecturer in 1976, Reader in 1992 and Professor in 1996. Following his retirement in 2003, Rowlands continued to work as an editor, critic and judge for Eisteddfod literary competitions. He was also a talented musician and his colleagues at Aberystwyth fondly recollected his piano playing at Christmas parties. Food and wine was another passion. Rowlands contributed a regular column as a restaurant critic in the Welsh magazine Barn, later opening a small hotel and restaurant, Y Goeden Eirin in Groeslon, with his wife Luned.
Stephens, M. (2015, May 17) Independent: ‘John Rowlands: Author who eschewed popular taste in order to explore the human mind and his own inner life’. Independent (London, England). Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/john-rowlands-author-who-eschewed-popular-taste-order-explore-human-mind-and-his-own-inner-life-10256109.html
‘Tributes paid to Professor John Rowlands’ (2015, February). Aberystwyth University. Retrieved from: https://www.aber.ac.uk/en/news/archive/2015/02/title-164011-en.html
‘John Rowlands’ (2020) Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved from: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/rowlands-john-1938