Partner Thomas Meyer
4000 Cathedral Ave NW, Washington, DC 20016
Princeton University, 110 West College, Princeton, NJ 08544
Black Mountain College, Black Mountain, NC 28711
Jonathan Williams (March 8, 1929 – March 16, 2008) was an American poet, publisher, essayist, and photographer. He is known as the founder of The Jargon Society, which has published poetry, experimental fiction, photography, and folk art since 1951.
Williams was born in Asheville, North Carolina to Thomas Benjamin and Georgette Williams, and raised in Washington, DC. He attended St. Albans School in Washington, and then Princeton University, before dropping out to pursue the arts. Williams studied painting with Karl Knaths at the Phillips Gallery in Washington DC, and engraving and graphic arts with Stanley William Hayter at Atelier 17 in New York, followed by a semester at the Chicago Institute of Design. In 1951, he arrived at Black Mountain College to study photography with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind. At Black Mountain College, Williams met and was influenced by the College's rector, Charles Olson. Also in 1951, Williams founded Jargon Books (later The Jargon Society) together with David Ruff, with the goal of publishing obscure writers. Based in Scaly Mountain, North Carolina, as well as the Yorkshire Dales in England, Jargon was long associated with the Black Mountain Poets. The press has published work by Charles Olson, Paul Metcalf, Lorine Niedecker, Lou Harrison, Mina Loy, Joel Oppenheimer, Ronald Johnson, James Broughton, Alfred Starr Hamilton and many other works by the American and British avant-garde. Since Williams' death, The Jargon Society has continued publication through the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. Once described as "a busy gadfly who happened somehow to pitch on a slope in western North Carolina," Williams was a living link between the experimental poets of Modernism's "second wave" and the unknown vernacular artists of Appalachia. Guy Davenport likened Williams' use of "found language" to the use of "found footage" by avant-garde filmmakers, as well as describing Williams as a species of cultural anthropologist.
by Robert Giard
Jonathan Williams Photographs. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
The literary critic Hugh Kenner described Williams as the "truffle hound of American poetry." Williams was also a longtime contributing editor of the photography journal Aperture. Williams divided his time between England and Scaly Mountain, North Carolina. He died March 16, 2008 in Highlands, North Carolina from pneumonia. He was survived by his longtime partner, Thomas Meyer, together since 1969.
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