Born in 1944, Joy Williams grew up in the small Maine town of Cape Elizabeth, where both her father and her grandfather were Congregational ministers. She holds degrees from Marietta College, in Ohio, and from the University of Iowa. Married to Rust Hills, the writer and fiction editor at Esquire, she has one daughter, Caitlin. She has taught in the writing programs at several leading U.S. universities (including the University of California at Irvine and the University of Arizona) and has settled into homes in Arizona and Florida.
Williams was born February 11, 1944, in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, to William Lloyd, a minister, and Elisabeth (Thomas) Williams. She graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Marietta College in Ohio in 1963. Williams received her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from the University of Iowa in 1965.
After college, Williams worked as a data analyst for the U.S. Navy for three years before turning to fiction writing full-time. Her first novel, State of Grace (1973), garnered Williams a lot of attention from readers and critics. Taking Care (1982), her first collection of short stories, exhibited Williams’s ability with short fiction. As of 2006, she had written nine books of fiction and non-fiction. “The Girls” was originally published in the Idaho Review VI in 2004 and then anthologized by Michael Chabon in the 2005 edition of The Best American Short Stories.
Williams is known for her terse, direct prose and an imagination that makes free use of grotesque elements. Her stories and novels are unwavering in their handling of difficult subjects and emotions. Death and dysfunctional marriages appear frequently but always with a fresh flair. She frequently publishes her stories and essays in literary magazines, such as Granta and the New Yorker. Williams’s work has also been widely anthologized over the course of her more than forty-year-long career. She received a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1973 and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1974, among other honors. She was a finalist for the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for her novel, The Quick and the Dead. She has taught at many universities, including the University of Houston, the University of Florida, the University of Iowa, Ithaca College, and the University of Texas in Austin.
Williams married writer and editor Rust Hills, and they have a daughter together. As of 2006, Williams lived in Florida and Texas.