John A. Williams

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For other people named John Williams, see John Williams (disambiguation).
Williams in 1962 (photo by Carl van Vechten)

John Alfred Williams (December 5, 1925 – July 3, 2015) was an African-American author, journalist and academic. His novel The Man Who Cried I Am was a bestseller in 1967.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Williams was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and, after naval service in World War II, graduated in 1950 from Syracuse University. His novels, which include The Angry Ones (1960) and The Man Who Cried I Am (1967) are mainly about the black experience in white America. The Man Who Cried I Am, a fictionalized account of the life and death of Richard Wright, introduced the King Alfred Plan - a fictional CIA-led scheme supporting an international effort to eliminate people of African descent. This "plan" has since been cited as fact by some members of the Black Community and conspiracy theorists.

In the early 1980s, Williams and the composer and flautist Leslie Burrs, with the agreement of Mercer Ellington, started to collaborate on the completion of Queenie Pie, an opera by Duke Ellington that had been left unfinished at his death. The project fell through, and the opera was eventually completed by other hands.[2]

In 1970 Williams received the Syracuse University Centennial Medal for Outstanding Achievement,[3] in 1983 his novel !Click Song won the American Book Award,[4] and in 1998 his Safari West won the American Book Award too.[4] On October 16, 2011, he received a Lifetime Achievement award from the American Book Awards.[5]

He married Lori Isaac in 1965 and moved from Manhattan to Teaneck, New Jersey in 1975, as it was a place that "would not be inhospitable to a mixed marriage".[6]

In 2003, Williams performed a spoken-word piece on Transform, an album by rock band Powerman 5000. At the time, his son Adam Williams was the band's guitarist.

Williams' personal papers, including correspondence and photographs, are archived in the Special Collections Research Center[7] at Syracuse University. He died on July 3, 2015, in Paramus, New Jersey, at the age of 89. He had Alzheimer's disease.[8]

Selected bibliography[edit]


  • The Angry Ones (1960)
  • Night Song (1961)
  • Sissie (1963)
  • The Man Who Cried I Am (1967)
  • Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light (1969)
  • Captain Blackman (1972),
  • Mothersill and the Foxes (1975)
  • The Junior Bachelor Society (1976)
  • !Click Song (1982)
  • The Berhama Account (1985)
  • Jacob's Ladder, New York: Thunder's Mouth Press (1987)
  • Clifford's Blues (1999)


  • Africa: Her History, Lands and People (1963)
  • This Is My Country Too (1965)
  • The King God Didn't Save: Reflections on the Life and Death of Martin Luther King, Jr. (1970)
  • The Most Native of Sons: A Biography of Richard Wright (1970)
  • Flashbacks: A Twenty-Year Diary of Article Writing (1973)
  • If I Stop I'll Die: The Comedy and Tragedy of Richard Pryor (1991)

Further reading[edit]

  • Earl A. Cash, John A. Williams: The Evolution of a Black Writer, New York: The Third Press, 1975.
  • Gilber H. Muller,John A. Williams, Boston: Twayne Publishers (1984).


  1. ^ Marnie Eisenstadt, "Author John A. Williams dies; Syracuse University alum wrote best-selling novel",, July 7, 2015.
  2. ^ Opera World, Queenie
  3. ^ Syracuse Centennial Medal
  4. ^ a b American Booksellers Association (2013). "The American Book Awards / Before Columbus Foundation [1980–2012]". BookWeb. Archived from the original on 13 March 2013. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 1983 ... !Click Song ... 1998 ... Safari West ... 2011 ... Lifetime Achievement. 
  5. ^ "Lifetime Achievement Award for John A. Williams", Department of Rare Books, Special Collections and Preservation, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester.
  6. ^ Horner, Shirley. "New Jersey Q & A: John A. Williams; A Novelist's Journey in Race Relations", The New York Times, June 13, 1993. Accessed July 8, 2015. "In an interview at his home in Teaneck, Professor Williams, 67, further talked about the relationship between blacks and whites in general, and blacks and Jews in particular; his interracial marriage and the experience of teaching at Rutgers.... In 1975, the Williamses left Manhattan for Teaneck; four years later, he accepted a full-time professorship at Rutgers.... Q. How did you come to Teaneck? A. We came here because we felt the town would not be inhospitable to a mixed marriage."
  7. ^ John A. Williams Papers. An inventory of his papers at Syracuse University.
  8. ^ William Grimes, "John A. Williams, 89, Dies; Underrated Novelist Who Wrote About Black Identity", New York Times, July 6, 2015.

External links[edit]