Washington University students, instructors, and library staff are invited to attend a preview of the Joy Williams Papers, which were acquired this year by University Libraries’ Department of Special Collections with support from the Department of English. The informal, open house-style event will take place on Friday, November 17, from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. in Olin Library, in the Special Collections Classroom.
An acclaimed fiction writer and essayist, Williams is the author of four novels and five short-story collections. Her short stories are widely anthologized. Her first novel, State of Grace (1973), was nominated for the National Book Award. Her 2000 novel, The Quick and the Dead, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and her 2001 essay collection, Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
From the beginning, Williams was recognized by literary giants like Harold Brodkey, James Salter, William Gass, and Raymond Carver as a major writer. In 1973, Truman Capote called State of Grace “the best novel of the year.” Williams’ first stories were published in The New Yorker, Esquire, and the Paris Review, and during the late ’70s, George Plimpton said that Williams “towers over most contemporary fiction.” In 2000, Plimpton declared that she was “without question one of the masters of the contemporary short story.”
In 2015, Knopf published The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories, and it served as the occasion for Williams’ contemporaries to express their admiration. Don DeLillo wrote, “Joy Williams is an essential American voice, giving us a new way to hear the living language of our time, the off-notes, the devious humor—as the strange, fierce, vigorous undercurrent we sometimes mistake for ordinary.”
The book also drew comparably emphatic praise from a younger generation of writers raised on her work. Ben Marcus, reviewing for The New York Times, wrote that Williams inspires “the sort of helpless laughter that erupts when a profound moral project is conducted with such blinding literary craft, when the dilemmas most difficult to accept are turned into dramatic action. See Samuel Beckett.” Karen Russell said of Williams, “She’s a visionary, and she resizes people against a cosmic backdrop.”
Williams is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and the Harold and Mildred Strauss Living Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters. She has taught creative writing at institutions across the country, including the University of Iowa and the University of Wyoming, where she is Visiting Eminent Writer in Residence. She has a long history as a visiting Hurst Professor at Washington University.
The Joy Williams Papers is an extensive collection of drafts, correspondence, notes, photographs and books spanning over five decades. Selections from the collection will be on display during the November 17 preview. The collection is scheduled for processing and cataloging in early 2018 and should be available for research later in the year.
For more information about the event, contact Joel Minor, curator of the Modern Literature Collection and manuscripts at WU Libraries.