Acclaimed author Joy Williams returns to Washington University in St. Louis for a special in-person reading from her new novel, “Harrow,” her first in 21 years, at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, in Graham Chapel. Afterward, as part of the Assembly Series event, David Schuman, director of the Master’s in Fine Arts program in Arts & Sciences and a former student of Williams, will interview Williams about her long career, which has included stints as a visiting professor at the university and friendships with now-deceased literary luminaries William Gass and William Gaddis, both of whose papers reside in University Libraries’ Modern Literature Collection.
University Libraries also is hosting the exhibit “Honored Guest,” featuring hand-typed manuscripts, tear sheets, correspondences and other materials from the Joy Williams Papers, which the Modern Literature Collection acquired in 2017.
“There is a lot to celebrate — this new novel, her papers here at WashU and her long history as an instructor at this university,” said Joel Minor, curator of the Modern Literature Collection at University Libraries.
Minor said Williams inspires a deep devotion among fans.
“She’s got this wry sense of humor and always wears dark sunglasses,” Minor said. “Whenever she speaks, you can feel a hush come over the audience, a sort of reverence. She’s a little bit like a rock star in that way.”
“Harrow” follows Khristen, a teenager adrift in an ecological hellscape. The New York Times describes the book as Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” meets “White Lotus,” while the New Yorker said, “Williams’s vision of an annihilated earth seems to have flown from the brain of Francisco Goya.”
“‘Harrow’ is, in some ways, a continuation of her previous work,” Minor said. “There are the signature elements — a despoiled environment, hints of the supernatural and this off-kilter, but poetic dialogue. She has a gift of creating these dreamlike worlds that feel hallucinogenic and yet recognizable.”
Previously, Williams published four novels, including “The Quick and the Dead,” a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize, and five collections of stories, as well as “Ill Nature,” a book of essays that was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Among her many honors are the Rea Award for the Short Story and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She was elected to the academy in 2008.
Pre-registration, completing a self-screening, and wearing a mask at all times, are required for in-person attendees. Doors will open at 3:30 p.m. Virtual attendees are encouraged to register as well to receive a reminder and an emailed link to the livestream.