Barbara Williams

Utah author, educator, and social justice advocate Barbara Williams, née Wright, was born on January 1, 1925 in Salt Lake City. She grew up in the Salt Lake City area and attended East High School, where she met her future husband, John Daniel (J.D.) Williams, and graduated in 1942 to attend the University of Utah. The two were married in Logan, Utah, on July 5, 1946 and moved to the East Coast for six years, where Williams worked at the Library of Congress. When the couple returned to Utah in 1952, Williams began teaching at the remedial English program at the University of Utah, a role that she would continue in for over a dozen years while also raising four children and completing her masters degree in English.

Williams' writing career also began with the family's return to Utah. Her first books were a mix of fictional stories that showed young children dealing with change (The Secret Name, 1972) and more factual texts, such as introductions to animals (Desert Hunter: The Spider Wasp, 1975). As she began publishing more regularly, though, Williams leaned toward fiction and the many ways in which this form let her share her passion for learning and social justice. 

Over the course of a decades-long career, Williams wrote several dozen titles. One of her strengths was with picture books in which characters, both human and animal, confronted challenges such as sharing toys, learning how to lose games with grace, or trying to persuade famous authors to visit their schools. In other popular books, Williams' characters interact with family and friends to play games, celebrate holidays, or navigate situations from daily life. Williams also wrote chapter book for middle-grade readers, which often drew from historical situations and tended to delve more deeply into social justice causes, something that both Williams and her husband supported passionately. Whatever the topic she was writing about, though, Williams excelled in using frank, natural language that her young readers could connect to. Her most successful title, the 1995 chapter book Titanic Crossing, sold over a million copies and was reprinted by Scholastic two years later. 

Though she wrote mainly for younger audiences, Williams also produced a few titles for adults, mainly books about crafting and cooking. With these books, Williams strove to share her love of making and sharing, whether the product of that love was crafts, baked goods, or favorite recipes. 

Beyond writing her own books, though, Williams was also involved in the writers' community of Salt Lake City. She and several fellow authors co-founded a group called The Manuscripters, in which children's book authors would read, critique, and support one another's work. Williams also volunteered and spoke at writers' events around the Wasatch Front, a role in which she was active from the late 70s onward. Aspiring writers found Williams herself approachable and her advice about writing for children, invaluable. 

In a 2007 interview with Utah Children's Writers and Illustrators Williams reported that, beyond writing, travel and "cooing at babies" were her favorite activities, and that teaching writing at the University of Utah had been one of her favorite jobs. 

Williams died in Salt Lake City in 2013 at age 88. She was remembered fondly by publishers and fellow children's authors from across the area, who recalled her warmth, generosity, and kindness as a mentor in a sometimes-daunting field. Former mentees described Williams as an inspiring speaker and a gracious, giving mentor who could balance just criticism with earnest support.  

Bibliography

  • Albert's Gift for Grandmother, Candlewick, 2006
  • World War II: Pacific, Lerner, 2005
  • Albert's Impossible Toothache, Candlewick Press, 2003
  • Making Waves, Dial Books, 2000
  • Titanic Crossing, Dial, 1995 (reprinted by Scholastic, 1997)
  • Coasting and Cooking: Book 3, Graphic Arts Center Publishing,1993
  • Coasting and Cooking: Washington and Oregon, Graphic Arts Centre Publishing, 1990
  • The Author and Squinty Gritt, Dutton Children's Books, 1990
  • The Crazy Gang Next Door, Ty Crowell Co., 1990
  • Jeremy Isn't Hungry, Dutton Juvenile, 1989
  • Chester Chipmunk's Thanksgiving, Puffin Books, 1988
  • Beheaded, Survived, Franklin Watts, 1987
  • Mitzi and The Elephants, Dutton Books for Young Readers, 1985
  • Mitzi & Frederick, Yearling Books, 1984
  • Whatever Happened to Beverly Bigler's Birthday?, Harcourt, 1983
  • Mitzi and the Terrible Tyrannosaurus Rex, Dutton Books for Young Readers, 1982
  • Horrible, Impossible, Bad Witch Child, Avon Books, 1982
  • Breakthrough Women in Archeology, Walker, 1981 
  • So What If I'm A Sore Loser?, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981 
  • Cookie Craft: No-Bake Designs for Edible Party Favors and Decorations, Henry Holt & Co., 1979
  • Hello, Dandelions!, Holt, Rinehart and Winston1979
  • More power to your skating: A complete training program for ice hockey players of all ages, Macmillan, 1979
  • Brigham Young and Me, Clarissa, Doubleday, 1978
  • Gary and the Very Terrible Monster, Children's Press, 1978
  • Guess Who's Coming to My Tea Party, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1978
  • Seven True Elephant Stories, Hastings House Pub., 1978
  • Pins, Pricks, and Popsicle Sticks: A Straight-line Crafts Book, Henry Holt & Company, 1977
  • Twenty-Six Lively Letters: Making An ABC Quiet Book, Taplinger, 1977
  • If He's My Brother, Harvey House, 1976
  • Someday, Said Mitchell, Dutton Juvenile, 1976
  • Desert Hunter: The Spider Wasp, Harvey House, 1975
  • Kevin's Grandma, Scholastic, 1975
  • The Secret Name, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,1972

Links

Utah Children Writers & Illustrators Profile