The Center for Black Literature Mourns the Loss of John A. Williams

The Center for Black Literature Mourns the Loss of John A. Williams

The Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College mourns the loss of John A. Williams, novelist, poet, journalist, and essayist. He made his transition on July 3, 2015. Williams, a key writer who emerged in the Black Arts Movement, was the author of more than 20 books and a winner of the American Book Lifetime Achievement Award. He participated in several National Black Writers Conferences at Medgar Evers College.

Williams’s novel “The Man Who Cried I Am”, which was published in 1967, brought him critical international acclaim. He was a master at creating historical fiction that depicted the experiences of blacks in America and he left a rich legacy in American literature.

I last saw Williams when he attended a reading of his book “Clifford’s Blues” at the former Nkiru Books. In “Clifford’s Blues”, Williams uses the genres of the journal and diary to create a haunting fictional account of a gay African-American musician who ends up spending 12 years in Dachau during WWII.

Ishmael Reed says of Williams, “Whatever formula is necessary to please establishment critics has eluded John A Williams. I have said that he is the best pure African-American novelist of the last hundred years.… Among world novelists, he is one of the most cosmopolitan.…” Reed cites novelist Cecil Brown who says, “…In my favorite of his many novels, “The Man Who Cried I Am”, he presented the image of black men living abroad, outside the pressure of racist America. His fiction is always suspenseful, well researched, and dramatic. As a prolific writer of both fiction and nonfiction (covering every genre), he is our Alexander Dumas.” (https://www.lib.rochester.edu/index.cfm?PAGE=2974)For an analysis of “The Man Who Cried I Am” by Walter Mosley, see https://www.lib.rochester.edu/index.cfm?PAGE=2975.

Brenda M. Greene
Executive Director, Center for Black Literature
Chair, English Department
at Medgar Evers College, CUNY

Photo credit AALBC.com

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