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John Alfred Williams

(1925- )

John Alfred Williams was born December 5, 1925, in Jackson, Mississippi. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserves as a pharmacist’s mate in the Pacific from 1943-46, and earned a B.A. from Syracuse University in 1950. Throughout his diverse career, he has worked as a journalist for a number of publications and media organizations, including CBS, Ebony, Jet, and Newsweek, and he has taught at a number of colleges and universities, including the City University of New York, University of California at Santa Barbara, La Guardia Community College, the University of Hawaii, Boston University, and Rutgers University, where in 1990 he was named the Paul Robeson Professor of English.

James L. de Jongh, a contributor to the Dictionary of Literary Biography, has said Williams is “arguably the finest Afro-American novelist of his generation,” although he "has been denied the full degree of support and acceptance some critics think his work deserves.” Williams believes part of the reason for this may be racial discrimination. In 1961, for instance, he was awarded a grant to the American Academy in Rome based on the quality of his novel Night Song, but the grant was rescinded by the awarding panel, possibly because he was black and because of rumors that he was about to marry a white woman, which he later did.

Many of Williams’ books explore what it means to be a black in America. His first three novels — The Angry Ones, Night Song, and Sissie — relate attempts by black men and women to come to terms with a nation that discriminates against them. In The Man Who Cried I Am, a novel that brought Williams international recognition, Williams further explores the exploitation of blacks by a white society in a plot in which the protagonist, Max Reddick, uncovers a plot by western nations to prevent the unification of black Africa and an even more sinister plot code-named “King Alfred,” a genocidal plan to end the race problem similar to Hitler’s “Final Solution.”

(Article first posted October 2001)

Publications

Fiction (Novels) and Poetry:

  • The Angry Ones. Ace Books (New York City), 1960, published as One for New York, Chatham Bookseller (Madison, NJ), 1975.
  • Night Song. Farrar, Straus (New York City), 1961.
  • Sissie. Farrar, Straus, 1963, published in England as Journey out of Anger, Eyre &Spottiswoode (London), 1965.
  • The Man Who Cried I Am. Little, Brown (Boston), 1967.
  • Sons of Darkness, Sons of Light: A Novel of Some Probability. Little, Brown, 1969.
  • Captain Blackman. Doubleday (New York City), 1972.
  • Mothersill and the Foxes. Doubleday, 1975.
  • The Junior Bachelor Society. Doubleday, 1976.
  • !Click Song. Houghton (Boston), 1982.
  • The Berhama Account. New Horizons Press (Chico, CA), 1985.
  • Jacob's Ladder. Thunder's Mouth (New York City), 1987.
  • Safari West: Poems. Hochelaga (Montreal, Canada), 1998.
  • Clifford's Blues. Coffee House, 1999.

Nonfiction:

  • Africa: Her History, Lands, and People. Cooper Square (Totowa, NJ), 1962, 3rd edition, 1969.
  • (Under pseudonym J. Dennis Gregory, with Harry J. Anslinger) The Protectors: The Heroic Story of the Narcotics Agents, Citizens and Officials in Their Unending, Unsung Battles against Organized Crime in America and Abroad. Farrar, Straus, 1964.
  • This Is My Country Too. New American Library (New York City), 1965.
  • The Most Native of Sons: A Biography of Richard Wright. Doubleday, 1970.
  • The King God Didn't Save: Reflections on the Life and Death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Coward (New York City), 1970.
  • Flashbacks: A Twenty-Year Diary of Article Writing. Doubleday, 1973.
  • (Author of introduction) Romare Bearden. Abrams (New York City), 1973.
  • Minorities in the City. Harper (New York City), 1975.
  • (With son, Dennis A. Williams) If I Stop I'll Die: The Comedy and Tragedy of Richard Pryor. Thunder's Mouth, 1991.

Editor:

  • The Angry Black (anthology). Lancer Books, 1962, 2nd edition published as Beyond the Angry Black, Cooper Square, 1966.
  • (With Charles F. Harris) Amistad I. Knopf (New York City), 1970.
  • (With Harris) Amistad II. Knopf, 1971.
  • Yardbird No. 1. Ishmael Reed (Berkeley, CA), 1979.
  • The McGraw-Hill Introduction to Literature. McGraw (New York City), 1985, 2nd edition, 1994.
  • Bridges: Literature across Cultures. McGraw, 1994.
  • Approaches to Literature. McGraw, 1994.

Other:

  • The History of the Negro People: Omowale — The Child Returns Home (television script; filmed in Nigeria). National Education Television, 1965.
  • The Creative Person: Henry Roth (television script; filmed in Spain). National Education Television, 1966.
  • Sweet Love, Bitter (screenplay). Film 2 Associates, 1967.
  • Last Flight from Ambo Ber (play; first produced in Boston, 1981). American Association of Ethiopian Jews, 1984.

Media Adaptations:

Television Productions:

  • The Junior Bachelor Society was adapted for television by National Broadcasting Corp. (NBC) as Sophisticated Gents in 1981.

Bibliography:

Books:

  • Cash, Earl A. Evolution of a Black Writer. Third Press, 1975.
  • Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 3, Gale (Detroit), 1986.
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Volume 5, 1976, Volume 13, 1980.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale, Volume 2: American Novelists since World War II, 1978, Volume 33: Afro-American Fiction Writers after 1955, 1984.
  • Gayle, Addison, Jr., ed. Black Expression: Essays by and about Black Americans in the Creative Arts. Weybright and Talley, 1969, pp. 365-72.
  • Muller, Gilbert H. John A. Williams. New York: Twayne, 1984.
  • O’Brien, John, ed. Interviews with Black Writers. New York: Liveright, 1973. 225-43.

Internet Resources

Online Reviews and Information:


How to cite this page (MLA style):

"John Alfred Williams." The Mississippi Writers Page. October 2001.