An acclaimed fiction writer and essayist, Williams is the author of four novels and five short-story collections. Her short stories are widely anthologized. Her first novel, State of Grace (1973), was nominated for the National Book Award. Her 2000 novel, The Quick and the Dead, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and her 2001 essay collection, Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
From the beginning, Williams was recognized by literary giants like Harold Brodkey, James Salter, William Gass, and Raymond Carver as a major writer. In 1973, Truman Capote called State of Grace “the best novel of the year.” Williams’ first stories were published in The New Yorker, Esquire, and the Paris Review, and during the late ’70s, George Plimpton said that Williams “towers over most contemporary fiction.” In 2000, Plimpton declared that she was “without question one of the masters of the contemporary short story.”
In 2015, Knopf published The Visiting Privilege: New and Collected Stories, and it served as the occasion for Williams’ contemporaries to express their admiration. Don DeLillo wrote, “Joy Williams is an essential American voice, giving us a new way to hear the living language of our time, the off-notes, the devious humor—as the strange, fierce, vigorous undercurrent we sometimes mistake for ordinary.”
The book also drew comparably emphatic praise from a younger generation of writers raised on her work. Ben Marcus, reviewing for The New York Times, wrote that Williams inspires “the sort of helpless laughter that erupts when a profound moral project is conducted with such blinding literary craft, when the dilemmas most difficult to accept are turned into dramatic action. See Samuel Beckett.” Karen Russell said of Williams, “She’s a visionary, and she resizes people against a cosmic backdrop.”
Williams is the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and the Harold and Mildred Strauss Living Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2018 she received the Hadada Award from the Paris Review. She has taught creative writing at institutions across the country, including the University of Iowa and the University of Wyoming, where she is Visiting Eminent Writer in Residence. She has a long history as a visiting Hurst Professor at Washington University.