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Joy Williams Papers

Identifier: MS-MS-ms158

The Joy Williams Papers spans over five decades consists largely of her own manuscript materials, including drafts of book reviews, essays, college work, and short stories, as well as editorial material toward her books including, State of Grace, The Changeling, Taking Care, Breaking and Entering, Escapes, The Quick and the Dead, Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals, The Florida Keys: A History and Guide, Honored Guest, 99 Stories of God, The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories, and Harrow. Also included is an extensive collection of correspondence primarily with friends, family, editors, students, and colleagues in the literary community including Don DeLillo, Richard Ford, Gary Fisketjon, James Salter, Gordon Lish, Raymond Carver, William H. Gass, and William Gaddis. Finally, the Williams Papers include a large assortment of materials relating to professional organizations, interviews, literary prize judging, teaching, conferences and readings, research subject files, awards, contracts, education, and photographs.


  • 1944-2021


Conditions Governing Access


Conditions Governing Use

Users of the collection must read and agree to abide by the rules and procedures set forth in the Materials Use Policies.

Providing access to materials does not constitute permission to publish or otherwise authorize use. All publication not covered by fair use or other exceptions is restricted to those who have permission of the copyright holder, which may or may not be Washington University. If you wish to publish or license Special Collections materials, please contact Special Collections to inquire about copyright status at (314) 935-5495 or (Publish means quotation in whole or in part in seminar or term papers, theses or dissertations, journal articles, monographs, books, digital forms, photographs, images, dramatic presentations, transcriptions, or any other form prepared for a limited or general public.)


40 linear feet

56.5 boxes

Biographical or Historical Information

Joy Williams (February 11, 1944 - ) is an American novelist, short story writer, and essayist.  Born in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, Williams received a BA from Marietta College and a MFA from the University of Iowa. She lives in Key West, Florida, and Tucson, Arizona. Williams was married for 34 years to L. Rust Hills, fiction editor for Esquire, until his death on August 12, 2008.

An acclaimed fiction writer and essayist, Williams is the author of five novels, five short-story collections and one essay collection. Her short stories are widely anthologized. Her first novel, State of Grace (1973), was nominated for the National Book Award. Her 2000 novel, The Quick and the Dead, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and her 2001 essay collection, Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

From the beginning, Williams was recognized by literary giants like Harold Brodkey, James Salter, William Gass, and Raymond Carver as a major writer. In 1973, Truman Capote called State of Grace “the best novel of the year.” Williams’ first stories were published in The New Yorker, Esquire, and the Paris Review, and during the late 1970s, George Plimpton said that Williams “towers over most contemporary fiction.” In 2000, Plimpton declared that she was “without question one of the masters of the contemporary short story.”

In 2015, Knopf published The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories, and it served as the occasion for Williams’ contemporaries to express their admiration. Don DeLillo wrote, “Joy Williams is an essential American voice, giving us a new way to hear the living language of our time, the off-notes, the devious humor—as the strange, fierce, vigorous undercurrent we sometimes mistake for ordinary.”

The book also drew comparably emphatic praise from a younger generation of writers raised on her work. Ben Marcus, reviewing for The New York Times, wrote that Williams inspires “the sort of helpless laughter that erupts when a profound moral project is conducted with such blinding literary craft, when the dilemmas most difficult to accept are turned into dramatic action. See Samuel Beckett.” Karen Russell said of Williams, “She’s a visionary, and she resizes people against a cosmic backdrop.”

Williams is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and the Harold and Mildred Strauss Living Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2018, The Paris Review presented her with the Hadada Award for lifetime achievement. The annual award is given to an eminent member of the writing community who has made a notable and lasting contribution to literature. Previous recipients include Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, and William Styron. Williams has taught creative writing at institutions across the country, including the University of Iowa and the University of Wyoming, where she is Visiting Eminent Writer in Residence. She has a long history as a visiting Hurst Professor at Washington University.

Method of Acquisition

Accession number MSS2017-026 and MSS2018-015. Purchase from Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, October 4, 2017.

Accession number MSS2021-008. Accural from Joy Williams, June 5, 2020.

Accession number MSS2021-024. Accural from Joy Williams, June 29, 2021.

Processing Information

Processed by Julia Peters, Sarah Schnuriger, and Abigail Dunn in 2018. Updated by Sarah Schnuriger in August 2022 and June 2023.

Joy Williams Papers
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Language of description

Revision Statements

  • 2020 August 26: Resource record updated in ArchiveSpace by Sarah Schnuriger.
  • 2021 February 4-March 10: Additional data cleanup by Kate Goldkamp.

Collecting Area Details

Part of the Manuscripts Collecting Area

Joel Minor
Olin Library, 1 Brookings Drive
MSC 1061-141-B
St. Louis MO 63130 US
(314) 935-5495