Sherley Anne Williams was born in 1944 and grew up in Fresno, California. She and her family lived in poverty, working as farmhands and picking cotton and fruit. After the deaths of her parents, an older sister raised her. Encouraged by teachers, Williams discovered her interest in history and biography and eventually earned a BA in English from Fresno State College. She also attended Howard University and earned an MA in American literature from Brown University.

Williams wrote in a variety of genres. Her novel Dessa Rose (1986) was a New York Times Notable Book, and she published literary criticism, children’s books, and poetry. In The Peacock Poems (1975), she addresses single motherhood, African American women’s lives, and the blues. The poems range in setting from California to New England. A televised version of her second collection, Some One Sweet Angel Chile (1982), earned an Emmy Award. She was also the author of the critical study Give Birth to Brightness: A Thematic Study in Neo-Black Literature (1972).

Williams’s children’s book Working Cotton (1992), based on her childhood, was a Caldecott Honor Book and won the Coretta Scott King Book Award. She also wrote Girls Together (1999), illustrated by Synthia Saint James.

Williams was a professor at the University of California San Diego and taught at Sweet Briar College and Stanford University. Her awards include the African American Literature and Culture Society’s Stephen Henderson Award for Outstanding Achievement in Literature and Poetry. She died in 1999.

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