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This article was prepared for the February 18, 2004 issue of U.S.

1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

On Stage: Book Award Winners

How do we sing our story? Poet C.K. Williams, whose latest collection

is titled "The Singing." Be forewarned, however, that the poem is not

a lyrical ode to life. Rather it is the chronicle of a chance

encounter with an African-American man near his home on Leigh Avenue.

Seeing the tweedy Princeton professor, the singer adapted his song

because, "if my smile implied I conceived of anything like concord

between us I should forget it." "I’m not a nice person," sang the

singer.

C.K. Williams reads from 2003 National Book Award-winning collection,

"The Singing," at the Princeton University Bookstore on Saturday,

February 21, at 11 a.m. He also joins three other National Book Award

winners in a Princeton Public Library program, presented at the Jewish

Center of Princeton on Thursday, February 19, at 7:30 p.m. Williams, a

faculty member in creative writing and the Council of the Humanities

at Princeton University, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for his

previous collection, "Repair."

Williams, who published his first book of poems, "Lies," in 1969,

considers his poems "discursive," meaning they are rooted in real

moments – sometimes the most prosaic moments – in the real world. His

other collections include "Poems: 1963-1983," published in 1989, "The

Vigil" (1996), "A Dream of Mind" (1992), and "Flesh and Blood" of

1987.

Known in print by the imposing initials C.K., Williams is a

soft-spoken man whose speech is suffused with a gentle humor. His

given names are Charles Kenneth and his friends know him as Charlie.

"When I began publishing there were a bunch of authors named Charles

Williams," he explains. "There was an English Christian poet, now

mostly forgotten, but famous at the time (Dorothy Sayers was his

protege). And there was an American detective novelist by the same

name."

Born in Newark in 1936, Williams’ father was a successful businessman

in Newark for many years. The family moved out to the suburbs during

Williams’ high school years. In 2000 he published a short memoir,

"Misgivings: My Mother, My Father, Myself," a meditation in prose on

his boyhood in Newark and his fraught relationship with his parents.

Williams says he began his writing career as a student at the

University of Pennsylvania. "At the end of my second year of college I

wrote a poem and then I just kept writing." At first, he also wrote

short stories and reviewed books and art shows for a now defunct

newspaper. "After that I decided quite consciously that I was just

going to do poetry, and to put all the ideas I might otherwise have

had into the poetry," he told U.S. 1.

He has taught at George Mason and Columbia universities, among others.

In 1995 he joined the teaching faculty of Princeton’s program in

creative writing.

Williams is married to Catherine Mauger, an art jeweler. They live in

Princeton half the year, and half the year in Paris, Mauger’s home

town. His daughter, Jessie Burns, works as a consultant in computer

marketing and is the mother of two sons, Williams’ adored

grandchildren. Their son, Jed Mauger Williams, is a painter whose art

can be seen on the book jacket of "Singing."

National Book Award Winners, Jewish Center of Princeton, 435 Nassau

Street, 609-924-9529. An Evening with the Winners of the 2003 National

Book Awards features C.K. Williams ("The Singing"), Shirley Hazzard

("The Great Fire"), Carlos Eire ("Waiting for Snow in Havana") and

Polly Horvath ("The Canning Season"). Free. Thursday, February 19,

7:30 p.m.

C.K. Williams, Princeton U-Store, 36 University Place, 609-921-8500.

Free reading. Saturday, February 21, 11 a.m.


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