Joy Williams (American writer)

Joy Williams
Born (1944-02-11) February 11, 1944 (age 75)
Chelmsford, Massachusetts
Occupation novelist, short story writer, essayist
Nationality American
Period 1973 – present
Genre Literary fiction

Joy Williams (born February 11, 1944) is an American novelist, short-story writer, and essayist.


Williams is the author of four novels. Her first, State of Grace (1973), was nominated for a National Book Award for Fiction. Her most recent novel, The Quick and the Dead (2000), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Her first collection of short stories, Taking Care, was published in 1982. A second collection, Escapes, followed in 1990. A 2001 essay collection, Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. Honored Guest, a collection of short stories, was published in 2004. A 30th anniversary reprint of The Changeling was issued in 2008 with an introduction by the American novelist Rick Moody.[1] The book was also republished in 2018 to celebrate 40 years from its original publication.[2]

Her stories and essays are frequently anthologized, and she has received many awards and honors, including the Harold and Mildred Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Rea Award for the Short Story. In 2008, she was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Williams was born in Chelmsford, Massachusetts.[3] She received a BA from Marietta College and a MFA from the University of Iowa. She has taught creative writing at the University of Houston, the University of Florida, the University of Iowa, and the University of Arizona.[4] For the 2008-2009 academic year, Williams was the writer-in-residence at the University of Wyoming, and continued thereafter as an affiliated faculty member of the English department. She lives in Key West, Florida, and Tucson, Arizona. Williams was married for 34 years to L. Rust Hills,[5] fiction editor for Esquire, until his death on August 12, 2008.[6]


Williams's fiction often portrays life as a downward spiral, addressing various forms of failure in America, from spiritual, ecological, and economic perspectives. Her characters, generally from the middle class, frequently fall from it, at times in bizarre fashion, in a form of cultural dispossession.[7] Williams's adult characters are usually divorced, her children are abandoned, and their lives are consumed with fear, often irrational, such as the little girl in the story "The Excursion," who is terrified that birds will fly out of her toilet bowl.[8] The critic Rosellen Brown characterizes the figures in Williams's work as seeming to be "born spiritually on the lam, living their clammy lives in a watery, vegetation-laden, untended-feeling place ... in ineffective shade."[9] Critics have also noted her work as having elements of both minimalism and the Gothic.[10]

In an introductory note in 1995's edition of Best American Short Stories, Williams wrote: "All art is about nothingness: our apprehension of it, our fear of it, its approach."[11]

Williams is especially noted for her writing on the environment. In addition to her work Ill Nature, she is the author of a guidebook on the Florida Keys, which Conde Nast described as "one of the best guidebooks ever written" and "a magnificent, tragicomic guide."[12]

Published work


  • State of Grace (1973)
  • The Changeling (1978)
  • Breaking and Entering (1988)
  • The Quick and the Dead (2000)

Story collections

  • Taking Care (1982)
  • Escapes (1990)
  • Honored Guest (2004)
  • 99 Stories of God (2013)
  • The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories (2015)


  • Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals (essays) (2001)
  • The Florida Keys: A History & Guide, illustrated by Robert Carawan (Tenth Edition) (2003)