JOHN A. WILLIAMS was born in Jacksonville, Mississippi, on December 5, 1925. He was raised in Syracuse, New York, however, thereby avoiding the thriving racism of the South. Williams confronted this type of racism, though, after enlisting in the navy in 1943. Black soldiers, usually in segregated units, sailed off to fight for the American ideals of democracy and freedom, ideals that were hardly realized for blacks in America.This irony is captured in Williams's novel Captain Blackman ( 1972), in which he explores the role of black men in the American military.
After the war Williams returned to Syracuse.In 1947 he married Carolyn Clopton, with whom he had two sons. In 1950 he received a B.A. in journalism and English from Syracuse University.Two years later his marriage broke up and he turned to writing. Working for such magazines as Ebony, Jet, Holiday, and Newsweek, Williams enjoyed recognition as a successful journalist. He continued to write about racial inequality in his fiction. His first novel, The Angry Ones ( 1960), is somewhat autobiographical and examines the problems of relationships in general and interracial sex in particular.
Night Song ( 1961), Williams's second novel, was inspired largely by the life of the jazz artist Charlie "Bird" Parker.The work returns to the theme of sexual relations in a racially unequal world. In Sissie ( 1963) Williams illustrates how love can fall by the wayside in the struggle of black Americans for survival in a white world. Williams was moving toward an increasingly bleak view of relations between blacks and whites. In The Man Who Cried I Am ( 1967), which was well received by both critics and the public, he explores the black writer's conflict between being simply a man and being part of a group, namely the oppressed black minority. He also gives vent to the most extreme fears of black Americans—a white conspiracy to exterminate blacks.
Williams has been one of the most prolific of all black American writers. His later books such as Mothersill and the Foxes ( 1975) and !Click Song ( 1982)