JACOB'S LADDER (1987)
Two former "traditional publishers" of mine turned this down. One had said they wanted very much to do it, but then had a change of heart. Eventually, Thunder's Mouth Press published it. The novel goes back to 1966 and it stays there. It is the first novel that I've set entirely outside the United States; the setting is in a west African country.
A CONDITION OF CONFLICT. Original typescript, with author's corrections and additions. Uncollated sheets. An early version of Jacob's Ladder.
JACOB'S LADDER. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press (1987). First edition, copy proof.
JACOB'S LADDER. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press (1987). First edition, in dust jacket. Signed by Williams and dated 10 August 1987.
"JACOB'S LADDER," in Essence. Vol. 18, No. 3 (July 1987). An excerpt from the novel, accompanied by an interview with Williams.
"ONE FOR NEW YORK," excerpted in The Payback Sampler. Edinburgh: Payback Press (Autumn 1996). Payback Press issued One for New York in 1996.
"ENDING WELL," in Men on Divorce. The Other Side of the Story. New York: Harcourt Brace (1997). Edited by Peggy Kaganoff and Susan Spano. Williams writes of his divorce from Carolyn Clopton Williams in 1954.
Men on Divorce: The Other Side of the Story. New York: Harcourt Brace (1997). Edited by Peggy Kaganoff and Susan Spano.
CASH, Earl A. John A. Williams: The Evolution of a Black Writer. New York: The Third Press (1975). First edition, in dust jacket.
Earl Cash's book, John A. Williams: The Evolution of a Black Writer (1975), is the first I know of that is derived from a dissertation. Gilbert H. Muller's John A. Williams (Twayne's United States Authors Series # 472) was published nine years later and therefore contains far more material. I understand that two more dissertations in French (in addition to N'Goma's) have been written. There are a few others that have been done by Americans, but I've not seen them.
DICKINSON, Gloria Harper. "Self-Concept in the Novels of John A. Williams and Chinua Achebe." 18 January 1978. Howard University doctoral dissertation.
N'GOMA, Eugene. "Les Personnages Expatries Chez trois Romanciers Afro-Americains d'Apres-Guerre: James Baldwin, John A. Williams, William Gardner Smith de 1948 a 1972." Universite de Paris, 1983. Doctoral dissertation.
MULLER, Gilbert H. John A. Williams. Boston: Twayne Publishers (1984). First edition.
THE MCGRAW-HILL INTRODUCTION TO LITERATURE. Co-edited with Gilbert H. Muller. New York: McGraw-Hill (1985). First edition, original wrappers.
Putting textbooks together is a major job. Gil Muller, another former colleague at LaGuardia, was the force behind this venture. Gil had done a study on me for the Twayne United States Authors Series (#472) in 1984. McGraw-Hill kept changing editors on us, but thanks to Gil's perseverance and encouragement, I stayed on the project. I thought it was important for me to be involved in such a work. The problem, as it developed when the book was published, was that there were few teachers of English who knew my work.
WAYS IN: APPROACHES TO READING AND WRITING ABOUT LITERATURE. Co-edited with Gilbert H. Muller. New York: McGraw-Hill (1994). First edition.
BRIDGES: LITERATURE ACROSS CULTURES. Co-edited with Gilbert H. Muller. New York: McGraw-Hill (1994). First edition.
WAYS IN: APRROACHES TO READING AND WRITING ABOUT LITERATURE AND FILM. Co-edited with Gilbert H. Muller. New York: McGraw-Hill (2003). Second edition.
Bust of Williams by James Reed, 6 September 1988. A reproduction of the bust was used for the Safari West jacket art.
Printed paper jacket for Safari West. Designed by Raymond Beauchemin.
SAFARI WEST (1998)
Safari West is my second collection of poetry and was published by Hochelaga Press in Montreal, Canada, but given the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation for poetry in 1998. (My first BCF award was in 1983 for !Click Song.) Poems, my first collection of poetry, was self-published in 1953.
Typed letter, Raymond Beauchemin to Williams. 27 June 1997.
SAFARI WEST. Montreal, Canada: Hochelaga Press (1998). First edition.
"THE WAY IT IS," from Safari West, original typescript.
American Book Award, the Before Columbus Foundation, 1998.
Article from publication announcing the American Book Awards, the Before Columbus Foundation, 1998.
CLIFFORD'S BLUES (1999)
Clifford's Blues, once titled Trio: Clifford's Blues, began its march around 1988 with three, not one, major characters. It was submitted no less then 40 times and was not published as a complete novel until 1999. Excerpts from it had been published in Another Chicago Magazine, Syracuse University Magazine, Love (a Babcock & Koontz broadside), Black American Literature Forum, and Rutgers University Magazine. It was finally published in a paperback edition by Coffee House Press in 1999.
"Chapter 21" of CLIFFORD'S BLUES published in Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 23, Number 2 (Summer 1989).
Original typescript, The Book Without Title became Clifford's Blues.
"THE VISITORS," Syracuse University Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 3 (June 1988).
LOVE. Derry, N.H., Ridgewood, N.J.: Babcock & Koontz (1988). Copy 18 of edition 200. Signed by Williams, excerpt from The Book Without Title.
CLIFFORD'S BLUES. Minneapolis, Minn.: Coffee House Press (1998). Uncorrected galley, showing the first version of the cover art.
CLIFFORD'S BLUES. Minneapolis, Minn.: Coffee House Press (1998). First edition.
All around, Clifford got very good reviews, but not in the major press. One review in a prominent book review publication identified me as a "young, new writer."
"CLIFFORD'S BLUES: A CONVERSATION WITH JOHN A. WILLIAMS," in New York Stories, Vol. 1, No. 5, (Winter 2000). Michael Blaine, Raymond Bowen, Gil Muller.
Typed letter from Williams to Glenda Kuneman, 14 June 2000.
Original drawing by Williams of the campus setting for Colleagues.
Colleagues has traveled much since 1994 and remains unpublished despite several revisions and refinements of plot and character.
The novel is based on more than 25 years of college teaching, of perceptions gained during my association with faculties at several universities, and on my friendships with students at some of those institutions.
COLLEAGUES. Original typescript for the unpublished novel.
Usually the given reason for the rejection is that it is a "college novel," but of course, it is far more than that. I don't know of a novel that has ever dealt with the growing black faculty, or the subterranean skull-duggeries of moving up the ladder to full professor, or the relationship between the prominence of an institution of higher education in many instances being based, in part, on its athletic program.
In the early 1980s, Leslie Burrs, a master wind instrument musician and composer, contacted me from his home near Philadelphia. He proposed that he and I collaborate on an opera called Queenie Pie, which was based on a work that Duke Ellington had begun but never completed. His son, Mercer, seemed amenable to the project, but it was difficult to determine who owned the rights, so nothing ever came of it.
ANQUI. Original printed score with libretto by Williams and music by Leslie Savoy Burrs (1998). "Women's Deep Song," with Williams's corrections shown.
Opera Columbus program for Vanqui premiere. (October 1999).
A few years later, when Leslie was commissioned by Opera Columbus in Ohio to write the music for an opera, he brought me on board. As with Queenie, he wished to compose from the libretto, which I wrote in verse. The opera, Vanqui - named after an African village I found on a very old map dedicated to Sir Isaac Newton - opened in Columbus on 15 October 1999 and ran for six performances. Rodrick Dixon, Benita Valente, Marietta Simpson, and Carmen Balthrop were the leading lights. Gary Sheldon conducted. Several of the lyrics also appear in Safari West.
Certificate of Honor and Recognition, Columbus City Council. Williams was presented this certificate for Vanqui and Clifford's Blues in 1999.
Typed letter from Williams to Mercer Ellington. 10 December 1982.
QUEENIE PIE. Original manuscript libretto, with Williams's corrections shown.
Original manuscript libretto, with Williams's corrections shown.
"ASSESS THE MESS." Original typescript of song lyrics (2003).
ASSESS THE MESS (2003)
Williams has entered the pop music world as well as the operatic, collaborating with son Adam of Powerman 5000 on their latest CD, "Transform." Williams has also written some verses for Walter Salas-Humara (The Silos) for a CD yet to be released.
Williams with son Adam, Los Angeles, May 1997. Adam Williams is lead guitarist for Powerman 5000.
Williams with Lori and Adam Williams, Getty Museum, Los Angeles, 1999.
POWERMAN 5000. Tonight the Stars Revolt. Los Angeles: Dreamworks Records (1999). CD-ROM.
I met the painter Sam Middleton in Amsterdam, Holland, in 1964 where the then struggling artist, a former merchant marine during and after WWII, was living, having deserted Denmark for a somewhat warmer climate. A former Harlemite, Sam loved jazz and I liked his motifs of staffs, bars, and clefs among his sprays, dots, splatters, swirls and stabs, done in searingly bright contrasting colors. We have stayed in touch for 40 years.
"MIDDLETON," in An Ocean Apart: American Artists Abroad (exhibition) October 8, 1982 - January 9, 1983, The Studio Museum in Harlem. New York: The Studio Museum in Harlem (1982).
Sam Middleton (1987). Williams wrote the introduction to the catalog for a Middleton retrospective in the Netherlands.
Sam Middleton: Mischief and Melancholy (1998).
Williams wrote the introduction to the catalog for this exhibition in the Netherlands at the Singer Museum, January 17 - February 29, 1999.
MIDDLETON, Sam. Autograph letter signed to Williams. 6 December 1982.
MIDDLETON, Sam. Autograph letter signed, to Williams. 7 October 1981.
PAINTING IN SOUND, Sam Middleton. Original typescript with author's corrections.
Miller Brewing Company's promotional brochure for GALLERY OF GREATS: BLACK AUTHORS, A VOICE FOR THE PEOPLE, 1990.
"PORTRAIT IN THE BLUE NOTE," in New York Stories, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Fall 2001).
IF I STOP I'LL DIE:
THE COMEDY & TRAGEDY OF RICHARD PRYOR (1991)
If I Stop I'll Die is my personal tribute to Richard Pryor, even though there are sections in the book where, in my effort to be thorough and honest, it may not seem so. Co-author Dennis A. Williams (also a writer) is my second son and as much a fan of Pryor's as I. Originally, this book was commissioned by an editor at a prominent publishing house but subsequently was rejected by her successor. Years later, when Thunder's Mouth Press expressed an interest in publishing it (provided I update it) I was involved in other projects, so I asked Dennis to collaborate with me.
Having had great difficulty getting my interview with Bill Cosby (April-May 1970) published, I was aware of the problems inherent in writing about such artists. (I still have, "in the can," days of interviews with Cos at Lake Tahoe for Amistad 2. Cosby's lawyers decided against granting permission to publish.)
So gathering and evaluating Pryor's background put me on the ground in his home town of Peoria, Ill., where I talked with neighbors, teachers, and friends (or so they said); in Hollywood, with lawyers and film people who'd worked with him. Unlike Cosby, Pryor refused a face-to-face interview. I was helped out here by a friend with whom I'd worked in Los Angeles in the fifties, but who by that time had become a hell-fired chief assistant at the film studio where Pryor had become a star.
Dennis and I worked well together. We were interviewed last year  for a television special on Pryor, which aired in February 2003.
Typed letter signed. From Williams to Richard Pryor. 10 April 1983.
IF I STOP I'LL DIE: THE COMEDY AND TRAGEDY OF RICHARD PRYOR. Original typescript, with author's corrections and additions.
COOKE, Dana L. Typed letter signed to Dennis and John A. Williams. 13 March 1992.
"TALENT LET LOOSE," Syracuse University Magazine, Vol. 8, No. 2 (March 1992).
INTERVIEW WITH BILL COSBY. Original typescript of interview for Amistad 2. Unpublished.
REFLECTED IN MALCOLM: LIVING IN THE TIME OF X
Robert Lavelle, director of publications for Blackside Productions, contracted me to do a book on Malcolm X to tie in with the television series the company was producing about him. Bob, very specifically, asked me to relate my life and times to Malcolm's since we were about the same age. I did and was surprised to find myself suddenly replaced by another writer without a word from Blackside, which, however, did pay me.
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, U.S. Senate Building, Washington, D.C., March 1964. Photograph from Williams's personal collection.
FOR OURSELVES: THE IMAGES OF MALCOLM X (1992?). Proposal for a book of photographs to accompany the television documentary produced by Blackside Productions.
REFLECTED IN MALCOLM: LIVING IN THE TIME OF X. Original typescript of unpublished young adult book.
Williams met Malcolm X while working as a Newsweek foreign correspondent in the mid-1960s, and the interview was conducted in Nigeria; at that time Malcolm X had just completed his pilgrimage to Mecca.
My introduction to Romare Bearden's work in The Art of Romare Bearden: The Prevalence of Ritual came about through having met him at the formation of the unfortunately short-lived Black Academy of Arts and Letters in the sixties, where we were both on the board of directors. I've always been attracted to art, even though I can't draw a straight line. Bearden's work is bold, history laid over history, often haunting, often humorous. In that time before we met, it turned out that we lived in the same neighborhood -- I on Lafayette Street in Manhattan, and Romie and his wife, Nanette, a few blocks away on Canal Street. He died in 1988.
BEARDEN, Romare. Autograph letter, signed, to Williams. 1969.
Williams and Bearden, Grenada, 1971.
The Art of Romare Bearden: The Prevalence of Ritual. New York: Abrams (1973). Introduction by Williams.
A STREET GUIDE TO AFRICAN AMERICANS IN PARIS
A STREET GUIDE TO AFRICAN AMERICANS IN PARIS. Belleville, Mich.: Belleville Lake Press (1992). Co-edited with Michel Fabre. Original typescript.
FABRE, Michel. Typed letter signed, to Williams. 11 January 1991
WAY B(L)ACK THEN AND NOW: A STREET GUIDE TO AFRICAN AMERICANS IN PARIS. Michel Fabre and John A. Williams. Center for American Culture Studies, Columbia University (1992).
A STREET GUIDE TO AFRICAN AMERICANS IN PARIS. Belleville, Mich.: Belleville Lake Press (1996). Co-edited with Michel Fabre. First edition.
Selected Awards and Honors
Syracuse University Centennial Medal for Outstanding Achievement, 1970.
Black Writers Hall of Fame, Chicago State University, 1998.
PHILLIS WHEATLEY AWARD FOR INVALUABLE CONTRIBUTIONS TO AFRICAN AMERICAN LETTERS AND CULTURE, QBR The Black Book Review, 19 July 2002.
Program from a luncheon where Williams was honored with the "President's Preservation Award," 6 October 2001.
Honorary Degree, State University of New York, Old Westbury, Doctor of Letters, 20 May 2001.
Southeastern Massachusetts University Seventy-Eighth Commencement, Dartmouth, Mass., 4 June 1978. Williams received an Honorary Doctor of Literature degree.
LINDBACK AWARD FOR DISTINGUISHED TEACHING. Presented by the president of The State University of New Jersey at Rutgers in recognition of Williams's contributions as Professor of English at the Newark campus of Rutgers University. 24 May 1982.
McNATT, Norman H. Autographed letter, signed, to Williams, 12 February 1990, announcing the appointment of Williams as the Paul Robeson Professor of English, Rutgers University.
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, appointing Williams to the position of Professor Emeritus, June 1994.
"Citation accompanying the awarding of the degree," Syracuse University, 14 May 1995.
THE JOHN OLIVER KILLENS MEMORIAL AWARD FOR FICTION, Blind Beggar Press 25th Anniversary Celebration, 22 September 2002.
Honorary degree, Syracuse University, Doctor of Letters, 14 May 1995.
Williams with sons Adam, Greg, and Dennis. Worcester, N.Y., 1968.
Williams speaking at a conference in honor of Chester Himes, Carnegie Center, 1972.
Williams and wife, Lori, at Carnegie Center, 1972.
Williams at Sarah Lawrence College, 1973.
Williams at his desk, Teaneck, N.J. 1977.
Williams, Lori, and Adam, Fuengirola, Spain. Summer 1977.
Promotional shots in his office at Rutgers University, 1982.
John and Lori Williams in Huntington, N.Y. (1983?).
"UNIT ONE: MINORITIES IN THE CITY," The City Today, edited by George L. Groman. New York: Harper & Row (1978).
INTERVIEWS WITH BLACK WRITERS, edited by John O'Brien. New York: Liveright (1973).
"AN INTERVIEW WITH JOHN A. WILLIAMS," by Dennis A. Williams, Forkroads (Winter 1995).
"JOHN A. WILLIAMS: AGENT PROVOCATEUR," Black Creation, First Anniversary Edition (Summer 1971).
"A GOOD SEASON," The Urbanite: Images of the American Negro. Vol. 1, No. 3 (May 1961).
From PROFILES OF NEW YORK AUTHORS, by Mildred Buchanan Flagg. New York: Carlton Press (1972).
"TWO ON THE AISLE - MORE OR LESS," Review, Vol. 5 (1983). Edited by James O. Hoge and James L. W. West III. University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville.
"NEVER BEFORE OR SINCE," The Sunday Herald Tribune Magazine (25 April 1965).
"WE PALS," comic strip by Morrie Turner (1992).