Jonathon Williams (March 8, 1929- March 16, 2008) was an American poet, publisher, photographer, designer, essayist, and iconographer. Born in Asheville, North Caroline, he was educated at St. Albans School in Washington, Princeton University, and Black Mountain College, and also studied art and design at the Institute of Design in Chicago.
In college, Williams became interested in the rebellious and experimental poems that came to be labeled Beat poetry. Drawing on a wide variety of subject matter—jokes, politics, and other topical themes, as well as universal ones, Williams called himself a "visual poet" and often illustrated his poems with pictures or cartoons. He has been strongly identified with the Black Mountain group of poets who have experimented with subject matter, form, word combinations, and mood evocation. Much emphasis is placed on wit, whimsy, and the combination of visual image and words to create desired impressions. He employed unexpected puns, repeated syllables, and word extensions. Although often critical of the American middle class, Williams delighted in mountain speech and traditions, frequently quoting hill folk in his poems and essays.
Williams more than fifty published books include An Ear in Bartram's Tree (1969), Blues and Roots/Rue and Bluets (1971), The Loco Logodaedalus in Situ (1972), and Elite/Elate Poems (1979). Among his many honors are a Guggenheim Fellowship for Poetry, numerous grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, honorary degrees, and the 1977 North Carolina Award in Fine Arts.
In 1951, Williams founded Jargon Press to bring out works by then-neglected poets, especially those associated with Black Mountain College. His self-proclaimed mission: "To keep afloat the Ark of Culture in these dark and tacky times!" He went on to become one of the most active small publishers in the United States, publishing such writers as Charles Olson, Kenneth Patchen, Denise Levertov, Paul Metcalf.
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Acquisition Note: Source: Gift of Henry Wenning. Accession number 1255
Preferred Citation:Name of the Collection, Washington University Libraries, Department of Special Collections
Scope and Contents: 1971: January 26. Typed letter signed from Williams to Henry Wenning commenting on recent Jargon imprints, his "mountain" books, Blues & Roots, James Lowell and author Reynolds Price, 1 page