Windsor, Berkshire, England
|Spouse||Hermine Demoriane (1965–present)|
|Relatives||Simon Williams (brother)|
Family and early life
Williams was born in 1942 in Windsor. He was the eldest child of the actor and playwright Hugh Williams and his second wife, the model, actress and playwright Margaret Vyner. His brother is the actor Simon Williams. His sister Polly, an actress, died of cancer in 2004 at the age of 54.
Hugh Williams had been a successful actor in the 1930s but his career declined after his service in the Second World War, in which he had been wounded. He declared bankruptcy in the early 1950s but the family's fortunes revived when he and his wife began collaborating as playwrights. They found success with the comedy The Grass is Greener which was first staged in London's West End in 1956.
Williams's early poems were influenced by poets associated with The Movement, particularly John Wain and Thom Gunn. He received an Eric Gregory Award for his first book of poems, Symptoms of Loss, which was published in 1965. Philip Larkin included "The Butcher", a poem from this collection, in his 1973 anthology The Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse. The poem also attracted the attention of the poet, editor and literary critic Ian Hamilton, who became Williams's mentor and "perfect reader". Williams's poems appeared in The Review and The New Review, literary magazines edited by Hamilton in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1969 The Review published a pamphlet of Williams's poems as part of a series exemplifying the magazine's "taste for spare, emotionally intense, tip-of-the-iceberg, occasionally gnomic poems".
His second book of poems, Sugar Daddy, appeared in 1970. In 1971 Williams received a Cholmondeley Award, which is given annually by the Society of Authors to "recognise the achievement and distinction of individual poets" chosen "for their general body of work and contribution to poetry". In 1980, for his fourth poetry book, Love-Life, Williams shared the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize with George Szirtes. The Faber prize is awarded to "that volume of verse or prose fiction first published originally in this country during the two years preceding the year in which the award is given which is, in the opinion of the judges, of the greatest literary merit".
Williams's style evolved away from "Review-style lyrical spareness" while his subject matter became more personal and intimate in nature, culminating in his 1985 collection Writing Home, which the poet Mick Imlah called a "classic of creative autobiography". In it, according to the poet and critic Michael Hofmann, he made a "complete and unexpected break with the tenets of economy, ceremony, care, melancholy and a kind of Oriental exquisiteness" that had characterized his earlier work and began a "loosening up" that led his later work to "the borderline between poetry and prose" while bringing in "more humour, sex, slapstick, and more of the world". Williams credits his reading of Robert Lowell's Life Studies with the change, remarking that he was "well into my career before I started writing about mummy and daddy and all that". Karl Miller, who published many of Williams's poems in the London Review of Books during his tenure as editor, wrote in 1995 that his work was most admired for its "directness, naturalness, unencumberedness", while The London Magazine in 2014 described the poems in I Knew the Bride as "blessed with a piercing clarity and unfailing readability.
Williams's 1999 book Billy's Rain won the T. S. Eliot Prize, which "is awarded annually to the best new collection of poetry in English published in the UK or the Republic of Ireland". In 2002 Faber published his Collected Poems, for which he received the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 2004.
Billy's Rain deals with a five-year long love affair. The subjects of later books include the death of his younger sister Polly from cancer (I Knew the Bride) and his experiences undergoing dialysis and a kidney transplant (Lines Off).
Williams worked as an editor at The London Magazine from 1961 to 1970. As a journalist and columnist he has written on theatre for The Sunday Correspondent (1989-1991), film for Harper's & Queen (1993-1998), popular music for Punch, and television for the New Statesman (1983-1988), where he was also poetry editor from 1984 to 1993.
He was a regular contributor to the "Freelance" column in The Times Literary Supplement from its beginning in 1988. A collection of his columns was published by Faber and Faber in 1995 as Freelancing: Adventures of a Poet.
His first book of travel writing, All the Time in the World, published in 1966, described his trip around the world at the age of 21, financed by his father in order "to break a trust fund". A second travel book, No Particular Place to Go, appeared in 1981.
Williams has been married to the singer and writer Hermine Demoriane since 1965. They have one daughter, Murphy Williams. He bought a house in the Islington district of London in 1966 and has lived there ever since. Williams received a successful kidney transplant in 2014 after undergoing dialysis for several years.
- 1966 Eric Gregory Award
- 1971 Cholmondeley Award
- 1980 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for Love-Life
- 1999 T. S. Eliot Prize for Billy's Rain
- 2004 Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry for Collected Poems
- 2007 T. S. Eliot Prize Shortlist for Dear Room
- 2007 Costa Book Award Shortlist for Dear Room
- Symptoms of Loss: Poems, Oxford University Press, 1965
- Sugar Daddy, Oxford University Press, 1970
- Some Sweet Day, Oxford University Press, 1975
- Love-Life (with drawings by Jessica Gwynne), André Deutsch, 1979 – winner of the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize
- Writing Home, Oxford University Press, 1985
- Selected Poems, Oxford University Press, 1989
- Self-Portrait with a Slide, Oxford University Press, 1990
- Dock Leaves, Faber and Faber, 1994
- Penguin Modern Poets 11, (Michael Donaghy, Andrew Motion, Hugo Williams) Penguin, 1997
- Billy's Rain, Faber and Faber, 1999
- Curtain Call: 101 Portraits in Verse (editor), Faber and Faber, 2001
- Collected Poems, Faber and Faber, 2002
- Dear Room, Faber and Faber, 2006
- West End Final, Faber and Faber, 2009
- I Knew the Bride, Faber and Faber, 2014
- Dialysis Days, Grey Suit Editions, 2018
- Lines Off, Faber and Faber, 2019
This list may also include some poetry books:
- All the Time in the World, Ross, 1966
- No Particular Place to Go, Cape, 1981
- Freelancing: Adventures of a Poet, Faber and Faber, 1995
- Some RB and Black Pop, Greville Press, 1998
Critical studies and reviews of Williams' work
- Kelly, Terry (June–July 2014). "Peter Pan meets Elvis". The London Magazine: 83–90. Reviews I Knew the Bride.
- Boshoff, Alison (25 June 2004). "My Soulmate". Evening Standard. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
- East, Louise (17 June 2006). "A wicked, adulterous old Etonian". The Irish Times. Dublin. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
- Trewin, J. C., ed. (1959). Plays of the Year. Plays of the Year. 19. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing. LCCN 50-13962.
- Fulton, David (December 2007). "Hugo Williams, Self-Styled Anglo-American Poet". Atlantis. 29 (2): 9–25.
- Wroe, Nicholas (11 July 2009). "A life in books: Hugo Williams, poet". The Guardian. London, England. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
- "Hugo Williams". British Council Literature. Retrieved 29 November 2020.
- "Peter Pan Meets Elvis". The London Magazine. 29 May 2014. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
- "Poet and journalist Hugo Williams". Financial Times. London, England. 23 May 2014. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
- "The Cholmondeley Awards". The Society of Authors. Retrieved 29 November 2020.
- "The Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize". Faber. Retrieved 29 November 2020.
- Hofmann, Michael (22 May 2003). "Imbalance". London Review of Books. 25 (10): 30.
- Miller, Karl (1995). "Hugo Williams". Thumbscrew (3). pp. 20–24. Retrieved 29 November 2020.
- "T. S. Eliot Prize". The Poetry Archive. Retrieved 29 November 2020.
- Patterson, Christina (28 May 2004). "Hugo Williams: A talent to amuse". The Independent. London, England. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
- Sampson, Fiona (22 June 2019). "Back from the brink". The Spectator. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
- Ryan, Declan (23 November 2018). ""We Go On": On the Poetry of Hugo Williams". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 28 November 2020.
- Campbell, James (7 September 2002). "Double exposure". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 November 2020.
- Williams, Hugo (1995). Freelancing: Adventures of a Poet. Faber & Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-17575-8.