Highlighting Author Joy Williams

To wrap up our celebration of Women’s History Month, we would like to spotlight the most recent writer to join the Washington University Libraries’ Modern Literature Collection: Joy Williams.

Joy Williams with her German Shepherd, unknown photographer. Washington University Libraries, Joy Williams Papers.

Williams has been a frequent visiting Hurst Professor at Washington University, and the University Libraries’ acquisition of her papers in the fall of 2017 has been met with much enthusiasm. Williams is a prominent novelist and short-story writer whose work has been nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award. From the beginning, when State of Grace hit the shelves in 1973, her work has been widely praised by a broad array of contemporary authors. One such admirer was her longtime friend William Gass, who passed away in December. Joy Williams is scheduled to speak at the memorial event for William Gass on April 6th, “William H. Gass, his Life and Legacy.” The event will take place at Holmes Lounge at 4pm and is free and open to the public.

The dust jacket from Joy Williams’ first novel, State of Grace, which was nominated for the National Book Award. Washington University Libraries, Joy Williams Papers.

Correspondence with William Gass, Don DeLillo, and Others

Williams met Gass in 1968 at the Yaddo artist retreat in Saratoga Springs, and the new Joy Williams Papers contain seven admiring letters from Gass from that same year. Gass and Williams remained mutual admirers of each other’s work throughout their lives.

Williams is well known in the writers’ community and her correspondence collection includes letters from dozens of writers, editors, and publishers. The largest portion of this correspondence is a group of over fifty letters from writer Don DeLillo, with whom Williams has a close friendship. In these letters, which are mostly from the 1990s and 2000s, DeLillo frequently compliments Williams’ work and briefly discusses his own. One particularly interesting letter is dated shortly after 9/11 and reflects on the recent tragedy. The following postcard represents a more lighter side:

The front and back of a postcard Don DeLillo sent to Joy Williams after he won the PEN-Faulkner Award. March 26, 1992. Washington University Libraries, Joy Williams Papers.

Other important correspondents who appear in the Williams collection include Richard Ford, James Salter, Gordon Lish, Raymond Carver, William Gaddis, and George Plimpton, just to name a select few. Williams also corresponded with a number of prominent contemporary female authors like Leslie Silko, Annie Dillard, and Tess Gallagher.

George Plimpton, editor of The Paris Review was an especially big admirer of Williams and published many of her short stories. Below is a letter from Plimpton accepting Williams’ short story, “A Story About Friends” for publication, in which he jokingly suggests that he rename his publication The Williams Gazette.

A letter of acceptance for publication in The Paris Review, signed by George Plimpton, August 4, 1970. Washington University Libraries, Joy Williams Papers.

Drafts and Manuscripts

The Joy Williams Papers also include drafts of all of Williams’ novels and her short stories and nonfiction works. There are even a few pieces of juvenilia dating back to when Williams was in grade school. Below are pages of a draft of Williams’ 1988 novel, Breaking and Entering, along with handwritten notes.

A draft of Breaking and Entering, with handwritten notes. Washington University Libraries, Joy Williams Papers.

Williams also has an interesting system of creating notecards for her novels. The photo below is of notecards she created for Breaking and Entering.

Notecards toward Joy Williams’ novel, Breaking and Entering. Washington University Libraries, Joy Williams Collection.

Many contemporary authors have shifted to doing a majority of their editing on the computer, leaving fewer drafts for scholars to study. Thankfully, however, Williams still works on the typewriter and edits on those typescripts. Below are two pages from her most recent novel, The Quick and the Dead (2000), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

An edited draft of Joy Williams’ The Quick and the Dead. Washington University Libraries, Joy Williams Papers.

The purchase of Williams’ collection also includes any future work she may produce and manuscripts toward that work. For more information on Joy Williams and the new collection, please visit our previous post. Joy Williams adds an important female voice to the contemporary novelists who make up the Washington University Libraries’ Modern Literature Collection, contributing depth to what is already considered of the world’s leading resources in the study of postmodern fiction. We are excited to welcome her to our archives.

About the author

Rose is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. When she is not working on her dissertation on post-1945 asylum novels or blogging about the amazing materials in Special Collections, she fills much of her time reading, writing, gardening, and wrestling.