HOLD THESE DATES! — September 20 & 21, 2008 — because the town of Rutherford, NJ, will celebrate the 125th birthday of its most famous resident, William Carlos Williams. This world-renowned poet, who died in 1963 at the age of 80, is considered by many to be the father of modern American poetry, achieving a fresh form of poetic language that centered on the daily lives and speech of ordinary people.
NEW! Join us in celebrating the life of Rutherford's most famous citizen by making a tax-deductible contribution to this exciting, memorable event!
A pediatrician as well, William Carlos Williams lived in Rutherford his entire life and practiced medicine in his home at 9 Ridge Road for 40 years. Although the world knew him as a pioneering poet, the people in his community knew him as "Doc Williams." He often scribbled down poems and ideas that came to him throughout his workday on a handy prescription pad, producing some 25 books of poetry, including his five-book National Book Award-winning poem Paterson, and his Pulitzer Prize-winning Pictures from Brueghel. He also wrote nine books of short stories, novels and other fiction, a collection of plays, an autobiography, a memoir of his mother, and books of essays.
Organizing the event is the William Carlos Williams Poetry Symposium (WCWPS). The non-profit organization held a day-long symposium in Rutherford on September 17, 2005, WCW’s actual birth date. Hundreds attended this first celebration of the poet here in 22 years, with events at the Williams Center, named for WCW in 1982, and Rutherford’s Public Library, which houses a large collection of Williams’ materials and personal effects. In between panel discussions, slide presentations, and poetry readings, historic bus tours shuttled attendees to important WCW sites in town.
The 2005 Symposium concluded that evening with A Dream of Love, the first full performance of one of WCW’s plays in his hometown. The play was directed by playwright Keline Adams and hosted by 80-year-old Judith Malina, whose avant-garde NYC company, The Living Theatre, ran WCW’s play “Many Loves” in repertoire throughout 1959. Winners of the Symposium-sponsored 4-county HS Poetry Contest read at the event and a week later at Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia where Williams attended medical school. Also in conjunction with the Symposium, Rutherford was designated a Literary Landmark.
The success of the 2005 Symposium inspired Rutherford Library Director Jane Fisher, with Wood-Ridge Library Director John J. Trause and others, to form the WCW Poetry Collaborative of Southern Bergen County, which holds monthly poetry readings at the Williams Center. Borough Historian Rod Leith’s historical bus tour and accompanying slide presentation “WCW: Growing up in A Small Town” received a Bergen County Historic Preservation Commendation Award in May 2006.
The WCWPS has held annual events since 2005. In 2006, the WCWPS worked with the Hispanic Heritage Organization to acknowledge WCW’s Spanish lineage on his mother’s side. The event featured Puerto Rican poet Urayanoa Noel reading selections from Williams' Kora In Hell as well as his own works. Actors Ellen Lanese and Anthony Spaldo also performed dramatic readings from Yes, Mrs. Williams, WCW’s biography of his mother and Paterson in English and Spanish.
In 2007, the WCWPS hosted a special poetry reading to commemorate its annual celebration of WCW’s birthday and to acknowledge the 25th anniversary of the renaming of the Williams Center. The reading took place on September 16 on the Terrace of the Williams Center, followed by a champagne reception during which the poets signed books.
Featured poets included Alicia Ostriker and Laura Boss, both of whom read at the WCW Centennial at the Williams Center in 1983; Lewis Warsh, a featured poet at the 2005 Symposium; Urayoan Noel, featured reader for the 2006 WCWPS event; Jim Klein, WCW Poetry Cooperative member and workshop leader; and Tina Kelley, award winning poet and New York Times reporter. Bill Zavatsky, poet and Williams scholar, opened the reading with a discussion and reading of WCW’s works. Several of WCW’s family members attended, notably three daughters of William Eric Williams, WCW's son. Suzy Williams Sinclaire and Erica Williams Gilbert shared reminiscences of their grandfather. Daphne Williams Fox read a poem written by her mother that was published at the time of the Williams Center naming.
For the 125th birthday celebration, the WCWPS Committee intends to mount another play and produce one of WCW’s musically related works, along with poetry readings, panels, and presentations. Youth involvement will include art and music projects as well as more poetry. The popular historic bus tour will be reprised.
The committee is seeking various levels of support and sponsorship. Anyone wishing to donate time or dollars, please download the Sponsor and Donors Guide and/or contact Della Rowland at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Jane Fisher at email@example.com or 201-939-8600.
Check back for more information as plans unfold. Where else to celebrate WCW’s auspicious birthday but in his hometown, which had its own 125th birthday in September 2006!