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Home:  >News & Events   >News Archives   >2004

Writer Joan Williams dies at 75

April 19, 2004

By Frederic Koeppel

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in The Memphis Commercial-Appeal.

Memphis-born author Joan Williams, whose fiction embodied the complicated nature and narrative power of the South, died of heart failure April 18 in Atlanta. She was 75.

The daughter of an Arkabutla, Miss., housewife and a Tennessee dynamite salesman, Williams had little thought of being a writer while a student at what was then Miss Hutchison’s School for Girls and Southwestern at Memphis.

In an interview with The Commercial Appeal in 1995, Williams said her ambitions were more like nurse, airline stewardess or movie star.

But in 1949 a short story she wrote at Bard College won the Mademoiselle magazine fiction contest.

And that summer she read William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, and she and friends drove from Memphis to Oxford, Miss., to meet the author.

They were turned away but Faulkner wrote to apologize, and the two began a correspondence that turned to romance for a few months in 1952.

“I never thought of myself as Faulkner’s girlfriend,” Williams said later. “He was a lonesome man when we met. He knew his best writing was over and he said he wished it could be fun again.”

Faulkner encouraged her to write.

Her novel, The Morning and the Evening, was published in 1961 and won the John P. Marquand First Novel Award.

Williams always resisted the implication, made by Joseph Blotner in his massive 1974 Faulkner biography, that the Nobel Prize-winning author helped pen the book.

Williams said Faulkner suggested the title and added a phrase of character detail to the novel’s opening line.

She went on to publish the novels Old Powder Man (1966), The Wintering (1971), County Woman (1982) and Pay the Piper (1988) and the volume Pariah and Other Stories (1983).

Williams leaves two sons, Matthew Bowen of Charlottesville, Va., and Ezra Bowen of Alpharetta, Ga., and two grandchildren.

The service is 1 p.m. Saturday at Memphis Funeral Home Poplar Chapel with burial in Memorial Park.

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