Barbara Williams, 1925-2013: Utah children's author connected to young readers
Barbara Williams, a best-selling children's author and an advocate for social justice, died last week in Salt Lake City. She was 88.
Williams was "one of the towering figures in children's literature," said Betsy Burton, owner of The King's English Bookstore in Salt Lake City.
"Her voice was pitch perfect," Burton said of Williams' writing. "She got into the way young people think and feel. She connected to the people she was writing about and writing for."
Williams wrote 52 books over her decadeslong career, both picture books and chapter books. Her best-known title, the young-adult novel Titanic Crossing, published in 1995, sold more than a million copies. Her most recent work, released in 2006, was the picture book Albert's Gift for Grandmother, part of a series about a family of turtles.
"She was a terrific writer, and I admired what she did," said author and Salt Lake Tribune columnist Ann Cannon. "She did what I wanted to do, which was to write for children."
Cannon recalled Williams' support when Cannon was just starting out as a writer. Williams was speaking at a writers' conference at Brigham Young University in 1980, which Cannon attended, and "she was very inspiring."
So inspiring, that Cannon called Williams "out of the blue" for advice. "She was so gracious and so kind," Cannon said.
Years later, Williams invited Cannon to join the Manuscripters, a group Williams and others had formed for people writing children's literature.
"She was a great critic ..., and she was willing to be a mentor," Cannon said. "She sort of singled me out and said, 'You can do this.' "
Williams was born Barbara Wright on Jan. 1, 1925 in Salt Lake City. She graduated in 1942 from East High School, where she met her future husband, J.D. Williams.
After graduating from the University of Utah in 1946, she married Williams, and the two lived for six years on the East Coast in Washington, D.C., where she worked at the Library of Congress, and in Massachusetts when J.D. earned his doctorate at Harvard.
In 1952, the couple moved back to Salt Lake City, where J.D. began teaching political science at the University of Utah becoming a beloved professor and founding director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics.
Barbara Williams began teaching at the U.'s remedial English program. She taught for the next dozen years, while completing a master's degree, raising the couple's four children, and starting her writing career.
"She was very passionate about social justice causes," Cannon said. "She and J.D. were a real team that way."
J.D. died in 2007. Williams is survived by their four children Kirk, Gil, Taylor and Kim along with 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. One granddaughter preceded her in death.
Following cremation, friends and family are slated to gather at a remembrance from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, May 1, at Larkin Sunset Lawn Mortuary, 2350 E. 1300 South, Salt Lake City.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the J.D. Williams Scholarship Fund at the University of Utah.