Lucy Ariel Williams

Lucy Ariel Williams, who was called “Ariel” by friends and family, was born in Mobile, Alabama, on March 3, 1905. Her mother, Fannie Brandon, was a teacher and choir singer, while her father, Dr. H. Roger Williams, was a physician and pharmacist who also wrote creatively in his free time. Williams was the youngest child in her family and the only daughter. Her eldest sibling died in infancy, leaving only her brother, Herschell, to whom Williams was close, until his death in 1949. Williams attended the Emerson Institute in Mobile until her sophomore year of high school, then completed her secondary education at Talladega College in 1923. In 1926, she graduated from Fisk University with a BM. Two years later, Williams earned an MM from Oberlin Conservatory, with concentrations in piano and voice. Williams also studied music at Columbia University with the bandleader Fred Waring. 

Williams published several poems in journals and anthologies. Her best-known poem, “Northboun’,” was first published in Opportunity in 1926 and won a literary prize from the magazine. With the initial stewardship of Jessie Redmon Fauset, Williams also began publishing in the Crisis in late 1926. Williams released only one volume of poetry during her lifetime, Shape Them Into Dreams: Poems (Exposition Press, 1955). Her work has been anthologized in The Poetry of the Negro, 1746–1970 (Doubleday, 1970) and The Poetry of the Negro, 1746–1949 (Doubleday, 1949), both edited by Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes; Golden Slippers: An Anthology of Negro Poetry for Young Readers (Harper, 1941), also edited by Bontemps; Brown Thrush: Anthology of Verse by Negro Students (Lawson-Roberts Publishing, 1932); Caroling Dusk: An Anthology of Verse by Black Poets of the Twenties (Harper & Brothers, 1927), edited by Countee Cullen; and The Book of American Negro Poetry (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1922), edited by James Weldon Johnson

Williams’s first ambition was to become a concert pianist. Due to racism in the performance art world and her choice to focus more on her domestic life (she married postal worker Joaquin M. Holloway in 1936 and had a son the following year), she became, instead, the director of music at North Carolina College in Durham, then, a music teacher at various high schools in the South. 

Williams died in 1973. Ariel Holloway Elementary School in Mobile is named in her honor.