Oxford AASC: Williams, Sherley

Williams, Sherley

 Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, Second Edition What is This?

Williams, Sherley

American poet, novelist, and scholar who emphasized the importance of history and folklore in shaping black identity.

In an introduction to her first novel, Dessa Rose, Sherley Anne Williams wrote, “Afro-Americans, having survived by word of mouth—and made of that process a high art—remain at the mercy of literature and writing; often, these have betrayed us.” Williams's awareness of skewed histories shaped her own writing. Her consistent ability to tell black stories truthfully through poetry and fiction brought her prominence among twentieth- century black American writers.

Born in Bakersfield, California, Williams was raised in low-income housing projects in Fresno. She earned a bachelor's degree in English at California State University. After a lengthy absence from school, she received a master's degree from Brown University. Williams subsequently returned to California to join the faculty of the University of California, San Diego, in 1975.

Although Williams began writing in 1967, it was not until the publication of Give Birth to Brightness: A Thematic Study in Neo-Black Literature in 1972 that her theories about the value of black folklore in shaping racial identity were fully articulated. These principles took artistic form when her book, The Peacock Poems, was published in 1975, to critical and popular acclaim, ultimately winning a nomination for the National Book Award in poetry. Among her other writings were Some One Sweet Angel Chile (1982) and Dessa Rose (1986), which was named a notable book by the New York Times. In 1992 Williams published her first children's book, Working Cotton, which describes her childhood experiences picking fruit and cotton with her parents. Her last published work was another children's book, Girls Together (1999), about the friendship between five girls growing up in the projects.

See also Literature, African American; Poetry, African American.Sign up to receive email alerts from African American Studies Center

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