Owen was born in Mold, Flintshire, into a working-class family, his father, Robert Owen, being a coalminer. His father and two brothers, James and Robert, were killed on 10 May 1837 in a mining accident when the Argoed mine became flooded. The loss impacted heavily on the family who remained in poverty. Owen received no formal education, but he acknowledged his debt to his Sunday school. At the age of 12, Owen was apprenticed to a tailor, Angel Jones, who was an elder with the Calvinistic Methodist. Owen described his apprenticeship as a 'kind of college', and began writing poetry after being influenced by one of his work colleagues. Owen used the tailor shop as an opportunity to discuss and argue topics with workers and customers, a theme that is evident in his novels. This style of education is recounted in his novel Rhys Lewis, given to the character 'Robyn y Sowldiwr'.
Owen began writing poetry under the nom-de-plume Glaslwyn, entering his work into local eisteddfodau and succeeding in publishing some his work. His first significant work in Welsh was a translation of Timothy Shay Arthur's novelette Ten Nights in a Bar-Room and What I Saw There. Owen then trained unsuccessfully for the ministry, preaching from 1860. He intended to enter the ministry as a Methodist preacher and enrolled in Bala Theological College in 1865, but failed to complete the course. From 1867 until 1876, he worked as a tailor in Mold, preaching on Sundays.
He is credited with starting the tradition of the Welsh language novel, Rhys Lewis often being credited as the first novel written in Welsh. He was an influence on many later novelists, such as Kate Roberts and T. Rowland Hughes. He is considered one of the greatest of Welsh language novelists, his works of fiction being:
- Y Dreflan (1881)
- Rhys Lewis (1885)
- Enoc Huws (1891)
- Gwen Tomos (1894)
- Straeon y Pentan (short stories) (1895)
As well as being recognised as one of his country's foremost writers in the Welsh language, Owen is commemorated in Mold by a statue, shopping precinct and cultural centre. Owen also gives his name to the Daniel Owen Memorial Prize, awarded at the National Eisteddfod for the best unpublished novel of not less than 50,000 words with a strong story. The prize has been awarded since 1978, though if none of the entries are deemed to be of high enough quality the award is not presented. Mold also holds an annual cultural festival centered around the life and works of Daniel Owen.
- "Daniel Owen". BBC Northeast Wales Arts. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
- Davies, John; Jenkins, Nigel; Menna, Baines et al., eds. (2008). The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. p. 637. ISBN 978-0-7083-1953-6.
- Morgan, Sion (3 August 2011). "National Eisteddfod: Daniel Davies wins Daniel Owen novel prize". walesonline.co.uk. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
- "Daniel Owen Memorial Prize". eisteddfod.org.uk. Retrieved 21 January 2013.
- Quayle, Kathryn (11 October 2012). "Daniel Owen Festival to kick off in Mold". flintshirechronicle.co.uk/. Retrieved 21 January 2013.