Thomas L. Long
Jonathan Chamberlain Williams was born on March 8, 1929, in Asheville, North Carolina, to Thomas Benjamin (“T. Ben”) and Georgette Chamberlain Williams. Williams’s ancestors had settled in western North Carolina in the late eighteenth century, and his family owned a homestead in Highlands, where the poet and his partner, Thomas Meyer, still live. A profound sense of place and people in hill country and sense of English ancestry would later characterize Williams’s poetry. Between 1941 and 1947 he attended St. Albans School, an exclusive Episcopal boarding academy in Washington, D.C.
In his young adulthood Williams pursued a vagrant educational career. He studied art history for two years at Princeton University (1947–1949), painting with Karl Knaths at the Phillips Memorial Gallery (now the Phillips Collection) in Washington (1949), and etching and engraving with Stanley William Hayter at New York’s Atelier 17 (1949–1950). From 1950 to 1951 he attended the Chicago Institute of Design, where he had hoped to study photography with Harry Callahan but was not able to be enrolled in his course. However, when he learned that Callahan, along with photographer Aaron Siskind and artist Ben Shahn, would be teaching in the 1951 summer session at Black Mountain College, the experimental liberal arts college near his family home, Williams traveled there, but not before going to San Francisco to see poets Kenneth Rexroth and Robert Duncan* and novelist Henry Miller, where he produced his first Jargon Press book, a broadside of one of his poems and an engraving by David Ruff. This fascination with the visual and the verbal would continue to characterize his publications.
Black Mountain College, near Asheville, was founded in 1933 by a breakaway group of faculty from Rollins College, Florida; they were known for their inno-