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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
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
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
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
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,
C.K. Williams, Princeton U-Store, 36 University Place, 609-921-8500.
Free reading. Saturday, February 21, 11 a.m.
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