University of Rochester

EVENT: Author John Williams Reads his Work, Opens Exhibit in his Honor

May 2, 2003

To celebrate the literature of John A. Williams, the Rare Books and Special Collections Library at the University of Rochester will host a reading by the writer at 3 p.m. Saturday, May 17, and unveil an exhibition of material reflecting more than 40 years of his influential career.

Considered one of the finest African-American writers of his generation, Williams drew particular acclaim for his 1967 novel The Man Who Cried I Am, which painted the realism of 20th-century life for black Americans. In more than 20 published works of fiction and nonfiction from essays and short stories to poetry, his writing confronts racial prejudice and the inevitable problems that result.

"Writings of Consequence: The Art of John A. Williams," an exhibit on display from May 17 to Sept. 30, will capture prime documents from his correspondence, manuscript notes and drafts, memorabilia, and photographs that are held at the University of Rochester. Both the exhibit and the reading are free and open to the public. A reception will follow Saturday afternoon's reading.

The day after his reading, Williams will receive an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters, for his contributions to American literature at the 153rd commencement ceremonies at the University.

Born in Mississippi in 1925, Williams earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Syracuse University after service in the Pacific during World War II. Starting in the late 1950s, he worked as a correspondent in Europe and Africa for magazines and television. His reputation as a journalist and editor continued to grow and he produced articles in numerous publications through the 1980s.

Williams also developed a significant academic career as a teacher and lecturer. He held positions at many prestigious institutions and from 1979 to 1994 taught English, journalism, and creative writing at Rutgers University. He retired from there as Paul Robeson Professor of English.

Since the 1960s, the author has been recognized with many awards and medals, including the Phyllis Wheatley Award for Outstanding Contribution to African-American Culture and the American Book Award for two of his works: !Click Song (1983) and Safari West (1998).

Hours for the exhibit are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday; and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. (For summer hours beginning June 2, please check For more information on the exhibit, contact (585) 275-4477.