Williams, William Carlos, 1883-1963

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1883-09-17
Death 1963-03-04
Americans
Spanish; Castilian, English

Biographical notes:

This collection covers the years of William Carlos Williams's medical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, a year of service at a New York City hospital, a semester of medical study in Leipzig, and the period when he was setting up his medical practice and courting his future wife, Florence Herman, in his home town of Rutherford, N.J. During this time, his younger brother Edgar went from engineering and architectural studies at M.I.T. to further study of architecture at the American Academy in Rome.

From the description of Correspondence with Edgar I. Williams, 1902-1959. (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 225083187

Poet and physician William Carlos Williams was born in Rutherford, New Jersey, on September 17, 1883.

From the description of William Carlos Williams collection, 1916-1973 (bulk 1934-1962). (University of Delaware Library). WorldCat record id: 607075490

William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), writer and physician. Williams was a prolific poet, prose writer, and dramatist who published several collections of poetry, plays, letters, and an autobiography. Among his published works are Paterson, The Desert Music and Other Poems, Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems, Kora in Hell: Improvisations, Many Loves and Other Plays: The Collected Plays of William Carlos WIlliams, Autobiography, and The Farmers' Daughter: Collected Stories. He practiced medicine in Rutherford, New Jersey.

From the description of William Carlos Williams papers, circa 1880-1985. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702139124

American poet.

From the description of Autograph note signed : [n.p.], to Herbert J. Seligmann, 1937 Oct. 31. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270872996

American physician and writer.

From the description of Papers of William Carlos Williams [manuscript], 1925-1927. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 647979070

From the description of Clippings concerning William Carlos Williams [manuscript], 1939-1957. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 647985117

William Carlos Williams was an American poet, novelist, essayist, and translator.

From the description of William Carlos Williams collection of papers, 1927-1965. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122430890

From the guide to the William Carlos Williams collection of papers, 1927-1965, (The New York Public Library. Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature.)

William Carlos Williams was an American Poet, often considered part of the Imagist and Modernist movements.

From the description of Letter from William Carlos Williams to Jesse L. Greenstein. 1939, Jan. 12. (Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens). WorldCat record id: 226352011

Author.

From the description of Papers, 1884-1995. (Indiana University). WorldCat record id: 36758229

William Carlos Williams was born on September 17, 1883, in Rutherford, New Jersey, the same town where he would die nearly eighty years later. His father, William George Williams, was a British-born merchant who, since childhood, had lived in the Caribbean. His mother, Rachel Elena Hoheb, was from Puerto Rico and had studied painting in Paris. The couple moved to Rutherford shortly after their marriage in Brooklyn, New York. Williams, and his younger brother Edgar, attended elementary school in Rutherford, and in 1898 studied at Château de Lancy, a boarding school near Geneva, while their father was in Buenos Aires on a year-long business trip. In the fall of 1899, Williams started high school at Horace Mann in Manhattan, commuting roughly an hour and a half each way from Rutherford to Morningside Heights.

Williams entered the University of Pennsylvania in 1902, as a student in its medical program. At Penn, Williams formed friendships with fellow student Ezra Pound, as well as painter Charles Demuth, who was studying art at Drexel, and H. D. (Hilda Doolittle), a student at Bryn Mawr. These friendships encouraged Williams to explore his aesthetic ambitions and would remain important throughout his life. Pound, in particular, was a chief foil in Williams' development of his vision of American literature. The two writers shared a life-long, if at times contentious, friendship. In his prologue to Kora in Hell: Improvisations (1920), Williams would call Pound "the best enemy United States verse has" because, from Williams' perspective, Pound favored that which mimicked the European over that which was American. It became one of Williams' aesthetic missions to create a distinctively American literature-one which drew on American diction, rhythms, forms, and themes, and which was rooted in the particularities of the local.

Following medical school, Williams interned first at the French Hospital and then at Nursery and Child's Hospital in New York, resigning from the latter on principle rather than sign his name to a hospital report containing figures he could not verify. Williams next studied pediatrics in Leipzig. While in Europe, he visited Pound in London and had a brief taste of the literary scene there. Upon returning to Rutherford, Williams established a medical practice in his hometown and, in December of 1912, married Florence Herman. The couple would have two sons, William and Paul.

In 1909, Williams privately printed a volume of his poems in Rutherford; and then in 1913 he succeeded in publishing The Tempers with Pound's publisher, London-based Elkin Matthews. While many of his literary peers led bohemian lives in Greenwich Village and Paris, Williams juggled his writing with his life in suburban Rutherford and his busy medical career. In his 1951 Autobiography, Williams wrote that early on he had made the decision that he would "not 'die for art,' but live for it, grimly! And work, work, work (like Pop), beat the game and be free (like Mom, poor soul!) to write, write as I alone should write."

During the late 1910s, Williams would sometimes meet with a group of writers associated with the little magazine Others at the house of Alfred Kreymborg in Grantwood, New Jersey. He also made commutes into Greenwich Village to visit with writers like Marianne Moore, Marsden Hartley, Kay Boyle, Wallace Stevens, Mina Loy, and Lola Ridge. In 1920, Williams founded the little magazine Contact with writer Robert McAlmon. He also continued to contribute his own writing to various little magazines and during the early 1920s published Kora in Hell: Improvisations (1920), Sour Grapes (1921), Great American Novel (1923), Spring and All (1923), and In the American Grain (1925). Much of this last book was written during a sabbatical year, half of which he spent in Europe. Though Williams did make several extended trips to Europe during the 1920s, he chose not to become an expatriate like so his many of his peers. In 1926, he won the Dial award for his poem Paterson, a precursor to the long-poem of the same name he would publish in five books beginning in 1946.

In 1931, Williams contributed to the Objectivist issue of Poetry magazine, with fellow poets Louis Zukofsky, Charles Reznikoff, George Oppen and others. In the 1930s, Williams continued to publish extensively, including two volumes of collected poems and the short story collections The Knife of the Times (1932) and Life Along the Passaic River (1938). Williams' fiction often depicted the local middle- and working-class figures that he encountered in his medical practice.

During the late 1930s, Williams, who always had a difficult time finding a stable publisher, began publishing with the fledgling press New Directions. Its founder, James Laughlin, brought out Williams' 1937 novel, White Mule, and served as his principal publisher throughout the late 1930s and 1940s. In 1950, though, Williams was wooed by a former New Directions editor, David McDowell, into a lucrative contract to publish several volumes of prose with the more commercial Random House.

Living at a remove from modernism's literary colonies, Williams was a diligent correspondent throughout his life. In addition to carrying on extensive correspondences with his literary peers, he responded to almost anyone who wrote to him, including many young writers. During the 1940s, he met and began a correspondence with aspiring writer Marcia Nardi, whose desperate and sometimes accusatory letters he incorporated into his epic poem Paterson .

For much of his life, Williams felt neglected in comparison to some of his better-known contemporaries; however, in the 1950s he began to achieve some the renown he desired. Members of a younger generation of writers, like Allen Ginsberg and Denise Levertov, sought him out as a literary mentor. Such recognition, however, was offset by several medical and personal setbacks. In 1948, Williams suffered a heart attack, and throughout the 1950s he suffered a series of strokes and wrestled with bouts of depression. In the midst of this, Williams also commenced his periodic interviews with scholar John C. Thirlwall, who hoped to write a biography of the poet. Williams' own Autobiography had caused tensions with some of his old literary compatriots, including a major rift with his one-time friend Robert McAlmon.

Williams also experienced disappointment when his nomination to the post of Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress was sidetracked by McCarthy-era questions about his politics and personal associations, including his friendship with Pound. Ill-health and frustration led him to surrender the appointment. He did, however, that same year receive the validation of sharing the 1953 Bollingen Prize with Archibald MacLeish. Williams was increasingly asked to give readings around the country, and would do so as his health allowed. Julian Beck produced a successful off-Broadway run of Williams' play Many Loves in 1959, which the poet was able to attend.

In 1961, Williams experienced another round of debilitating strokes, leading him to give up on his writing. He died on March 4, 1963. Williams' funeral in Rutherford was attended by his family and townspeople, as well as several younger writers from New York--including Gilbert Sorrentino, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) and Joel Oppenheimer--who had come to pay homage to the poet. Later that year, Williams was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for Pictures from Breughel, and Other Poems (1962) as well as the National Institute of Arts and Letters Gold Medal for poetry.

From the guide to the William Carlos Williams Collection, 1928-1971, (The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center)

Poet and physician William Carlos Williams was born in Rutherford, New Jersey, on September 17, 1883. After attending public school in Rutherford until 1897, Williams and his brother attended Château de Lancy near Geneva and the Lycée Condorcet in Paris for two years. Following the family's return to Rutherford in 1899, Williams commuted to Horace Mann High School in New York.

From 1902–1906 Williams studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. During these years he began his friendships with Ezra Pound, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), and painter Charles Demuth. Williams interned at French Hospital and the Nursery and Child's Hospital in New York from 1906 to 1909. In 1909 William Carlos Williams financed the publication of his first collection of poetry titled Poems .

Following his internship, he studied pediatrics for a year at the University of Leipzig. While in Europe he made several visits to London to see Ezra Pound, and during those visits met William Butler Yeats.

In 1910 he returned to begin a general practice in Rutherford, New Jersey. By 1912 he had married Florence Herman, who was the Flossie mentioned in his poems. His interactions with his patients influenced his poetry and stories throughout his life.

Another significant influence on writing was his interest in art and particularly the work of the French post-impressionists and cubists, some of which he viewed at Alfred Stieglitz's gallery "291." Many of his essays on the arts were collected in A Recognizable Image (1978).

In the 1920s a wide variety of Williams writings were published. Two prose pieces, Kora in Hell: Improvisations (1920) and The Great American Novel (1923), were followed by Spring and All (1923), a volume which combined prose and verse. His study of historical figures, In the American Grain (1925), was followed by the novel, A Voyage to Pagany (1928) and by his translation, in collaboration with his mother, of Philippe Soupault's novel, Last Nights in Paris (1929).

Throughout his career Williams displayed an allegiance to the small literary magazines and was frequently published by them. He also coedited Contact with Robert McAlmon and Marsden Hartley from 1920 to 1923. Williams's novel, White Mule (1937), was serialized in the literary magazine Pagany from 1930–1933.

During the 1930s Williams continued to write prose, fiction, and poetry, including The Knife of the Times and Other Stories (1932), January (1932), Collected Poems, 1921-1931 (1934), White Mule (1937), and Life Along the Passaic River (1938).

Although Williams wrote a variety of prose, fiction, and poetry in the next two decades, his greatest achievements were the epic poem Paterson, which appeared in five books (1946, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958); his long poem, The Desert Music (1954); Pictures From Brueghel (1962), and two important plays, A Dream of Love (1948) and Many Loves (1961).

During the last fifteen years of his life, Williams began to receive recognition for his work. In 1949 he became a fellow of the Library of Congress and in 1950 he received the first National Book Award for poetry. He was also awarded the Bollingen Prize (1953) and posthumously the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1963. He died on March 4, 1963 in Rutherford.

Biographical information on each recipient of Williams's letters is found in the series notes.

Garraty, John A. (ed.) Dictionary of American Biography . Supplement Seven 1961-1965. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1981. pp. 788-791.

From the guide to the William Carlos Williams collection, 1916–1973, 1934–1962, (University of Delaware Library - Special Collections)

William Carlos Williams, American poet, essayist, dramatist, prose writer, and physician, was born in Rutherford, New Jersey on September 17, 1883 to William George Williams and Raquel Héléna Rose Hoheb. His father was British-born and had lived most of his early life in the British Virgin Islands. His mother was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. William Carlos and his younger brother Edgar were raised in Rutherford and lived not only with their parents, but also their paternal grandmother, Emily Dickinson Wellcome, and uncles. The house was lively with the various personalities and languages and both sons grew up speaking Spanish and French, as well as English.

From 1897 to 1899, Williams and his brother went to Europe with their mother for schooling in Château de Lancy near Geneva, Switzerland and the Lycée Condorcet in Paris. Following Williams’s return to the United States in 1899, he enrolled at Horace Mann High School in New York City, where he ran track. In 1901, he fell ill after a race and was diagnosed with a heart murmur; forced to stop running, he became an avid reader and began to write poetry. Williams enrolled in dental school in 1902 at the University of Pennsylvania, but soon transferred to the medical school. There he met Ezra Pound, with whom he would develop a life-long and often strained friendship. Pound played an important role in Williams’ development as a writer and introduced him to Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), who was attending nearby Bryn Mawr College. During this time Williams also befriended artist Charles Demuth.

Following graduation in 1906, Williams moved to New York City for internships at French Hospital and Nursery and Child’s Hospital. In 1909 his first play, Betty Putnam, was produced and Williams published Poems by William C. Williams at a local printer. The same year, Williams met Florence “Flossie” Herman, who promised to marry him when he returned from the University of Leipzig where he was to study pediatrics. While in Germany, Williams made several trips to various countries and visited Ezra Pound in London and his brother in Italy. After just one year in his studies, Williams returned to the United Stated, anxious to return to Florence and begin a medical practice. In September of 1910, Williams opened his practice in Rutherford, New Jersey and nearly three years later, on December 12, 1912, he married Florence and they settled in Rutherford. They would remain married until his death. Williams relocated his practice to his new home in Rutherford and became a successful and well-respected physician, a position he would hold in the Rutherford community for the rest of his life.

The couple’s first son, William Eric, was born in January 1914 and their second son, Paul, was born in September 1916. Around 1914, Williams became restless with his work as just a doctor, and began to visit New York City, spending time in Greenwich Village among writers and artists. Williams was determined to strike a balance between his work as a successful doctor, which provided him financial and family stability, and as a writer with a full literary career. His friends in Greenwich Village supported this endeavor and provided him a community with which to share his poems and other writings. Among the poets were a core group, most of whom published work in the little magazine Others, comprised of Alfred Kreymborg, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Maxwell Bodenheim, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. In 1914, Williams’s poetry appeared in Pound and Amy Lowell’s Imagist anthology, Des Imagists . His poetry volume, Al Que Quiere!, appeared in 1917 and reflected Williams's Spanish and Puerto Rican roots. This volume introduced the theme that would be a constant through his life’s work: his struggle to understand his American identity in the country that he at once loved but struggled to understand and accept.

Though Williams’s work was initially swept into the Imagism movement, he quickly established his own voice and stood distinct from his contemporaries. He began to experiment in his poetry and went on to write several plays, short stories, novels, critical essays, an autobiography, and translations. His writing and physician’s life were balanced by working as a doctor through the weekdays, writing at night, and spending weekends in New York City with fellow writers and artists. Williams’s developing writing voice became distinct from his influential friend Pound and contemporary T.S. Eliot, he set out to draw his themes from what he called “the local” and to not allude to foreign languages and Classical sources. He continued experimenting with new techniques of meter and lineation, further developing his new voice and focusing his subject matter on everyday circumstances of life and the lives of everyday people. This is most evident in his five-part epic Paterson, published between 1946 and 1958.

Williams began to write plays after acting with Mina Loy in one of Alfred Kreymborg’s plays. Innovation was important to Williams as he worked on Kora in Hell: Improvisations in 1920 while editing the little magazine Contact with Robert McAlmon. In 1924, Williams went on sabbatical for one year and wrote In the American Grain in the New York Public Library. For the rest of the year he and Florence left the children with friends and traveled to France. Much like Williams had done as a child with his own mother and brother, William Eric and Paul joined Florence on a trip to Europe in 1927 where they attended school. Williams joined them and took the opportunity to visit Pound, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, and Constantin Brâncuşi. While Williams was impressed by their literary success, he remained dedicated to living in the United States and writing in his singularly American voice. In 1927, he published, The Descent of Winter, and in 1928 A Voyage to Pagany, inspired by his European travels.

In 1930, along with Richard Johns, Williams began editing the experimental magazine Pagany . Around that time, he won the Guarantor's Prize for poems published in Louis Zukofsky's "Objectivist" issue of Poetry . In 1932, he resumed publishing Contact for a three-issue run. Over the next several years, Williams published poetry, drama and prose and worked steadily on Paterson, for which he would be become perhaps best known. He published the first book of the five-part semi-autobiographical epic poem in 1946 (he would die while still working on part six). The poem’s main character is a doctor and poet named Paterson who lives in Paterson, New Jersey, an industrial town along the Passaic River not far from Rutherford. The poem follows Paterson along in his life, concentrating on his daily experience. The poem is a sort of collage, integrating letters between Williams and others and poem fragments of other poets.

Towards the end of his life, Williams toured the United States giving readings and lectures, invited by eager writing teachers and students. Williams took this role seriously and spent time talking and corresponding with students, urging them to find their own voice and yet remain flexible and rooted in some literary tradition. Emerging writers cited Williams as a major influence throughout his life, including the poets among the Beat Generation, the Black Mountain School, the San Francisco Renaissance, and the New York School.

Williams suffered a heart attack in 1948 and his health began to decline. Though his health increasingly worsened that year, he published the second volume of Paterson, the play A Dream of Love, and several small collections of poems. In 1949 he published Selected Poems and Paterson III, along with the chapbook The Pink Church, a book accused of having communist overtones (though it was simply about the human body) and was made a fellow of the Library of Congress.

In 1950, Williams received the National Book Award for Selected Poems and Paterson III, published Make Light of It: Collected Short Stories and Collected Later Poems (1940-1950), and began publishing with Random House, the first commercial publisher other than New Directions (which Williams had been with since its 1936 founding) to publish his work. In 1951, Williams published Autobiography of William Carlos Williams, The Collected Earlier Poems, and Paterson IV and in March of that year he had his first stroke and he retired from medical practice. Williams suffered a second and serious stroke in August 1952. In spite of his declining health, Williams received the honor of being named Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress but his appointment was rescinded due to his alleged associations with communism and his friendship with controversial Ezra Pound. The position’s revocation coupled with his increasing difficulty with writing caused a severe depression, for which he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital the same year. He received the Bollingen Prize for Poetry along with Archibald MacLeish that year.

In October 1955 Williams had his third, paralyzing stroke. He eventually taught himself to speak again and learned to type with his unparalyzed hand on an electric typewriter, but his work process was profoundly affected. His health continued to worsen and in 1959 he published Yes, Mrs. Williams, a biography of his mother, and participated in The Living Theatre production of his play Many Loves . Various short stories collected in The Farmers' Daughters and plays collected in Many Loves and Other Plays were published in 1961. In 1962 New Directions published Williams's last poetry collection, Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems.

On March 4, 1963, Williams died at his home in Rutherford at the age of 79. Locally, he was remembered as a doctor who delivered nearly 2,000 children. Nationally, he was lauded for his writing. In May, 1963 he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems and the Gold Medal for Poetry of the National Institute of Arts and Letters. His most anthologized poems are “The Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just To Say.”

From the guide to the William Carlos Williams papers, circa 1880-1985, 1930-1973, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

Mimi Goldberg, poet.

William Carlos Williams, poet.

From the description of William Carlos Williams correspondence with Mimi Goldberg, 1954-1979. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702164346

Mimi Goldberg, poet.

William Carlos Williams, poet.

From the description of William Carlos Williams correspondence with Mimi Goldberg, 1954-1979. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 84447223

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Subjects:

  • Poets, American--20th century--Archives
  • Physicians as authors
  • American poetry--20th century
  • Authors, Russia
  • Poetry
  • Physicians--New Jersey
  • Authors--20th century
  • Social credit
  • Poets, American--20th century
  • American drama--20th century
  • American literature--20th century
  • Contracts
  • Poets, American
  • Poets, American--20th century--Correspondence
  • Poets--20th century
  • Physicians
  • Authors and publishers

Occupations:

  • Poets
  • Authors
  • Librettists
  • Physicians

Places:

  • United States (as recorded)
  • Germany (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • New Jersey (as recorded)