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Crystal Williams

Crystal Williams was born in 1970 in Detroit, Michigan. She received her BA from New York University and MFA from Cornell University. Williams is the author of four poetry collections: Detroit as Barn (University of Washington Press, 2014), which was a finalist for the National Poetry Series, the Maine Book Award, and the Cleveland State Open Book Prize; Troubled Tongues (Lotus Press, 2009), winner of the 2009 Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Prize; Lunatic (Michigan State University Press, 2002); and Kin (Michigan State University Press, 2000).

In her review of Troubled Tongues, Alice Fulton writes, “Crystal Williams’s poems are a serious playground, their argot full of mischief and empathy. She writes idioms created from fissures and travesties, the makeshift discourse of survival, a rhetoric evolving under duress. Her poems rage against assumptions that restrict human possibilities and sing the necessities of imaginative space.” In Ai’s review of Williams’s debut collection, she said Williams “riffs language with her saxophone, metaphorical pen and she takes us into her family as if we were family too, back from a long journey, and fills us in on everything we’ve missed—good, bad, and in between.”

In 2010 Williams was appointed the Mary Rogers Field Distinguished University Professor of Creative Writing at DePauw University, and she was appointed to the Oregon Arts Commission two years later. Williams also served as a faculty member at Reed College for eleven years before being appointed the college’s inaugural Dean for Institutional Diversity. She served as associate vice president, chief diversity officer, and professor of English at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine. She is the associate provost for diversity and inclusion at Boston University, where she is also a professor of English. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts.


Detroit as Barn (University of Washington Press, 2014)
Troubled Tongues (Lotus Press, 2009)
Lunatic (Michigan State University Press, 2002)
Kin (Michigan State University Press, 2000)

Crystal Williams
Photo credit: Owen Carey

By This Poet


from People Close To You


She asks if she can sit on the bench & it is that kind of day in Santa Monica, slow & gentle so that when she sits, properly, like a teacher or the pudgy mother of a girl named Marilyn, in unison you raise your round faces. The wind hefts the voices of your deadlings. They are serious & sorrowful women, full of warnings, but today seem content to let you be, saying only, Child, be thankful, open your chest, that great cavern, to our other sister. & so you watch the sea.

Who knows what the woman beside you hears: there are so many languages in the world & your tongue is tied to this one. So you sip iced tea & lean a bit forward into them, your gone women, your sages, who seem to be stroking your head. You begin to imagine the ocean floor as a cup, the pouty lips of God, the soft foam, the salt as if food, tasting sweet & clear.

The Voice of God

          Poem for Aretha Franklin
when she opens her mouth
our world swells like dawn on the pond
when the sun licks the water & the jay garbles,
the whole quiet thing coming into tune,
the gnats, frogs, the dandelion pollen, the
pebbles & leaves & the whole world of us
sitting at the throat of the jay
dancing in the throat of the jay
all of us on the lip of the jay
singing doowop, doowop, do.

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