Tribute: Lynna Williams

Lyanna Williams

Lynna Williams, an associate professor of English and creative writing who was instrumental in shaping Emory University’s acclaimed Creative Writing program, died July 29 after a brief struggle with cancer. She was sixty-six.

Williams arrived at Emory in 1990, the first year the Creative Writing program was offered, and went on to serve as the second director of the fledgling program. She is credited with encouraging the hires of several award-winning faculty, including Pulitzer Prize–winning poet and nineteenth US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey, novelist Joseph Skibell, and playwright and novelist Jim Grimsley.

Williams is remembered as a gifted writer and for her honesty and humor, generous mentorship, and dedication to students and colleagues.

Williams began her career as a political reporter in Texas and a reporter and political speechwriter in Minnesota before she began writing fiction. Her first short story, “Last Shift at the Mine,” addressed unemployment on the Minnesota Iron Range and won a Loft-McKnight Award and a Loft Mentor Series Prize. She received a master’s degree in fine arts in fiction from George Mason University in 1990. Since then, her short fiction has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Lear’s, the Oxford American, and Crab Orchard Review, among other esteemed literary magazines.

Her short story, “Sole Custody,” was nominated by Atlantic Monthly for the National Magazine Award in Fiction, and she was one of four writers featured in the magazine’s story on “New American Voices” in contemporary fiction. Five of her stories have been included in the “100 Other Distinguished Stories” list in the annual Best American Short Stories anthology. Her first collection, Things Not Seen and Other Stories, was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.

At the time of her death, Williams was working on a new story collection and an essay collection inspired by a year spent teaching English to a group of Kurdish women in a small Georgia town.

Editor's note: Jim Grimsley and Kimber Williams contributed to this article.

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