Williams, Jonathan 1929-2008 (Jonathan Chamberlain Williams)

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Williams, Jonathan 1929-2008 (Jonathan Chamberlain Williams)


See index for CA sketch: Born March 8, 1929, in Asheville, NC; died of pneumonia, March 16, 2008, in Highlands, NC. Poet, publisher, educator, and author. Williams was a connoisseur of the artists and poets who could tease beauty from "found objects" and untamed thoughts. As a student at Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina, in 1951, he created the Jargon Society, a publishing company that has existed on one shoestring or another for more than fifty years. As a publisher he found the art and poetry of the outsiders, the generally self-taught or untaught creative spirits who shunned the academy and were often shunned by major publishers. He produced their work in exquisitely rendered limited editions, sometimes illustrated with his own calligraphy or photographs. Williams was a champion of the overlooked and underappreciated, but some of the budding poets that he nourished later achieved wide readership and critical acclaim. He published the work of Denise Levertov and Charles Olson, Paul Metcalf and Kenneth Rexroth, and even Buckminster Fuller. One of his least-known authors, Ernest Matthew Mickler, wrote one of the Jargon Society's most successful releases: a recipe book called White Trash Cooking. As a poet, Williams tamed his own thoughts into thousands of poems that have been praised for their folksy language, word play, and stylistic novelty. His work has been linked to the so-called "Black Mountain poets" and compared to the poems of the beat generation, but it has also been cited for its original and unconventional artistry. Williams wrote and photographed the experiences of everyday life, particularly as he found them in fields and graveyards, music and sports, food for the palate and food for the soul. His work appeared in dozens, perhaps hundreds, of limited editions and chapbooks, and some say that this is where it can best be admired, a little bit at a time. It has also been collected in more permanent editions of poetry, photographs, essays, and criticism, including An Ear in Bartram's Tree: Selected Poems, 1957-1967 (1969), Get Hot or Get Out: A Selection of Poems, 1957-1981 (1982), Blackbird Dust: Essays, Poems, and Photographs (2000), A Palpable Elysium: Portraits of Genius and Solitude (2002), and Jubilant Thicket: New and Selected Poems (2005).



Contemporary Poets, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.


New York Times, March 30, 2008, p. A20.

Times (London, England), May 6, 2008, p. 56.

Washington Post, April 11, 2008, p. B7.

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Williams, Jonathan 1929-2008 (Jonathan Chamberlain Williams)

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