The NY Times has a obituary on John A. Williams (1925-2015), whom they called a strong but perpetually underrated novelist. He died July 3 at age 89.
His 1967 bestselling novel The Man Who Cried I Am is about a black novelist in Europe, struggling with the world, his own marriage, and an American friend of his. One Goodreads reviewer says, “This should be much more of an African-American classic than it is. I’d never even heard of it. The writing is excellent, simple but always appropriate, never pat. Although it is a novel about a novelist, and his relationship with another novelist, it never feels overly literary or self-referential.” In the NY Times, Eliot Fremont-Smith said it is “a compelling novel, gracefully written, angry but acute, committed but controlled, obviously timely, but deserving of attention for far more than that.”
His second novel, Night Song, appears to have opened him up for insult. William Grimes says Williams impressed the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which “unanimously recommended him for a fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. In an unprecedented decision, the Rome academy rejected the selection, offering no explanation. Mr. Williams said he believed himself to be the victim of a false rumor that he was about to marry a white woman. He was offered a $2,000 grant instead, which he rejected.”
Williams graduated in 1950 from Syracuse University, where his professors encouraged him to pursuing writing.
“Mr. Williams, whom the critic James L. de Jongh called ‘arguably the finest Afro-American novelist of his generation,’ excelled in describing the inner lives of characters struggling to make sense of their experiences, their personal relationships and their place in a hostile society,” Grimes writes. “His manifest gifts, however, earned him at best a twilight kind of fame — a reputation for being chronically underrated.”