Get Your Premium Membership

Sherley Anne Williams Biography | Poet

Photo of Sherley Anne Williams

Sherley Ann Williams is an important African-American novelist, poet and social critic. Her works reflect and portray images of her life growing up as an African-American. Born in Bakersfield, California, her family worked as migrant workers picking fruit in orchards as well as picking cotton. This most likely shaped her outlook on life, as well as other significant life events to include the death of her father from tuberculosis at age 8 and sadly, the death of her mother who suffered a heart attack when Sherley Anne Williams was only 16 years old. And like her parents, in order to survive financially, Sherley Anne William also went to work picking cotton.

Sherley Anne Williams went on to graduate from Thomas Alva Edison High School, then received her bachelor's degree in English at what is now called, California State University at Fresno. In high school, her love of language was noticed by a science teacher who, upon seeing great promise in her, encouraged her to apply to college. Upon graduating from college and receiving a bachelor's degree, she went on to receive her master's degree at Brown University in 1972. Upon completion of her master's degree she then became a professor of English Literature at the University of California at San Diego. In 1984, under a Fulbright grant, she travelled to Ghana.

As an undergraduate, Sherley Anne Williams discovered and was drawn towards the work of Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown-both of whom were poets and were significant players in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920's, and whom both went on to contribute towards the development of American poetry during the 20th century. Williams has often remarked how captivated by their language and speech. She later adds, that she always liked the way black people talked or spoke, and she wanted to incorporate this into her own writings.

Sherley Anne William's first book of poetry in 1975 titled, "The Peacock Poems", was actually nominated for a Pulitzer Price as well as a National Book Award. Her second book of verse in 1982 was titled, Some Sweet Angle Chile. This too was nominated for a National Book Award. Later, she won an Emmy Award for TV performance of poems from that collection. In her later work, a historical novel titled, "Dessa Rose", which chronicled and fused her childhood experiences whilst working in the cotton fields. The story took four years to write and is about the relationship between a well to do Charleston bride and a young pregnant slave who is sentenced to die after the birth of her baby. The book was widely acclaimed and has been translated into French, Dutch and German.

By the early Nineties, Sherley Anne Williams focus was on theatre, which included a one woman drama, "Letters from a New England Negro" as well as children's books. In fact, her children's books won a Coretta Scott King Book ward as well as a Caldecott Award. It was even listed as one of the best books for children by Parents magazine in 1992. This was followed by another children's book titled: "Girls Together". Sherley Anne Williams was working on a sequel to "Dessa Rose" prior to her death, from cancer.

Other works included writing for TV 'Ours to Make' in 1973, and 'The Sherley Williams Special' in 1977. In addition, Sherley Anne Williams was selected to write the introduction for Zora Neal Hurston's: “Their Eyes Were Watching God" 1991 edition. Sherley Anne Williams went on to be a Pulitizer Prize and National Book Award, she was a prolific writer, poet and author. It seems strange that her own mother discouraged her from reading as a young girl, as her mother thought that books would fill her head with false hopes. However, her writings have been important and significant in shaping the African-American identity through her writings. In “Peacock Poems" Williams examined the history of her parents and their use of black dialect, along with the musical equivalent, such as spirituals and the blues. Her other works which varied from children's books to plays included similar themes. Sherley Anne Williams writings, voice and contribution to African-American literature resonates deeply for all, and will continue to do so as she expertly speaks about the African-American experience with a painful, yet palpable transparency in which everyone reading can appreciate. 

Sherley Anne Williams: Poems | Best Poems | Short Poems | Quotes

Book: Shattered Sighs