Header image for Joy Williams: Honored Guest. A film strip with multiple photos of Joy Williams in a rowboat with one of her German Shepherd dogs.
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John M. Olin Library, Ginkgo Reading Room

Joy Williams: Honored Guest

The Washington University Libraries acquired the Joy Williams Papers in 2017, a significant milestone for its Modern Literature Collection. Williams is one of this country’s most esteemed living writers, especially in the short story genre. Joy Williams also represents the first female fiction writer to house her papers at the university. Williams’s long-standing connection to other writers in the Modern Literature Collection and Washington University’s Writer’s Program makes her a perfect fit.

The cover art has a horse leaping through - up and out - a splash of ink.
Harrow book cover from Williams’s publisher, Penguin Random House.
A full, typed draft page that is the first page of a draft of Harrow. There are some lines and corrections made in pencil on the page.
The first page of an early typescript draft of Harrow.

The September 2021 publication of Harrow, her first novel in 21 years, presents the perfect time to recognize Joy Williams as our honored guest. In addition to this exhibition, the Libraries are hosting an event with Williams which will be presented online along with the exhibition’s digital version.

The items on display are from the Joy Williams Papers, and are in some cases organized into six categories:

The child's drawing for "Pony's Surprise" has a horse peaking its head out of a barn door. The barn has a banner over it reading "Riding Academy" and the horse's stall has a name plate reading "Black Knight."
Cover page for “Pony’s Surprise.”

Formative Years

Perhaps the highlight of this case is “Pony’s Surprise,” a story and drawing that eight-year-old Joy wrote and submitted to Jack and Jill magazine. Other items include photographs, essays, and stories written in college, and her master’s degree diploma from the University of Iowa.

Short Fiction: Periodicals

Williams has published numerous short stories in popular magazines such as Esquire and The New Yorker, literary periodicals such as The Paris Review, and countless academic literary journals. This case focuses on this important aspect of her writing career with tear sheets, typescripts, publications, and correspondence.

A full, typed page on lavender paper. The page is numbered 1 as this is the first page of the typescript.
The first page of the “Honored Guest” typescript.
This internal news bulletin from Random House has an official header and is a typed document announcing Joy Williams's Taking Care with a light synopsis of the collection's tone.
“News from Random House” promotion for Taking Care.

Short Fiction: Books

Whenever a new collection of Joy Williams stories is published, it is a cause for celebration in the literary world. These two cases contain marketing documents, books, typescripts, and more from her five published story collections to date.


From Williams’s first published book, the National Book Award finalist State of Grace (1973), to her most recent, Harrow (2021), these cases showcase various materials that went into the making and marketing of her five novels. With The Changeling (1978), one can see how it attained new life in two later editions.

A bookmark-sized promotional item with a four-sentence excerpt from the book The Changeling.
Promotional broadside for the 2008 edition of The Changeling.
This alternative book cover has a fish in the middle of an empty desert. The title reads Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals.
Alternate book cover mockup for Ill Nature.


In her non-fiction, the reader sees the more direct and strident side of Joy Williams the writer, as she calls out our abuse of nature or sheds light on society’s outcasts, fellow writers, and the art of writing. In the cases detailing Williams’s non-fiction work are some of the tear sheets, typescripts, and proofs of her essays, along with letters to the editor, marked-up books for new editions, and more.

Personal and Professional

The image shows six of the seven members of the Academy Committee. The image has the three men of the Committee standing behind the three, seated women of the Committee.
American Academy of Arts and Letters 2012 Literature Awards Committee photograph by Benjamin Dimmitt, November 11, 2011. Standing: Louis Begley, Robert Brustein, Philip Levine. Seated: Alison Lurie, Louise Glück, Joy Williams (Paul Aster not shown).

Williams has served, supported, and kept close contact with other writers for decades through teaching, judging, correspondence writing, and other activities. We present just a handful of artifacts of these activities in the last two cases, such as ephemera, drafts, cards and letters, and photographs. Last but not least, we even have a pair of her ubiquitous sunglasses!

This exhibition was organized by the Curator of Modern Literature and Manuscripts, Joel Minor, for the Washington University Libraries.

Visiting the Exhibition

The image shows text along the walls in the Ginkgo Reading Room for the Joy Williams: Honored Guest exhibition. The text on the walls is from The Writer on Her Work, Vol. II: New Essays in New Territory. New York: Norton, 1991.
The text along the walls of the exhibition is from Williams’s The Writer on Her Work, Vol. II: New Essays in New Territory. New York: Norton, 1991.

The exhibition is available for viewing during Olin Library’s operating hours. For more information on visiting, please see our For Visitors and Alumni page. If you have any questions regarding the exhibition, please contact Joel Minor.

Header image credit: Photographs of Joy Williams, 1983. Copyright Jimm Roberts: All Rights Reserved.