Ann Joslin Williams '80, '90G remembers well her father's reaction when she began to write about their shared northern New Hampshire landscape, a place he had memorialized in his novels as the town of Leah, N.H., and Cascom Mountain. "He said, 'I think you really have something here,' meaning a world which was my own and valuable," Williams says. "He helped me realize what I had to work with, and what I knew about that landscape and those people."
While many writers might find following in footsteps as large as Thomas Williams' daunting—among other honors, the UNH creative writing professor received the National Book Award in 1975 for The Hair of Harold Roux—for Ann it was the most natural thing in the world. Indeed, her literary career has followed much the same trajectory as her father's, taking her from UNH to the famed Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa and ultimately back to UNH to teach. In June, she published her first novel, Down From Cascom Mountain, a story of love and grief that views the familiar milieu of Leah and Cascom Mountain through a different lens.
Williams took several of her father's classes incognito. As a teacher, he challenged her to look deeply into a story to understand what it was really about, she recalls. He also was a stickler for the technical aspects of writing. "He really impressed upon me the importance of clean, clear sentences," she recalls. "How could readers care about a world if they were distracted by technical mistakes?" Three decades later, teaching undergraduate fiction and M.F.A. writing courses in the same department where her father taught for 32 years, Williams passes on to her students the lessons that flowed from her father's pen—and a few of her own.
Sadly, Tom Williams did not live to enjoy his daughter's burgeoning success: he died of lung cancer in 1990, a number of years before Ann made her own literary mark (in addition to Down From Cascom Mountain, she published an award-winning collection of linked stories, The Woman in the Woods, in 2007). Williams believes her father would be pleased with the way she has taken not just Cascom Mountain and Leah, but also the Williams literary name and made it her own. With the publication of her novel, it is now Williams' career that is giving her father's a boost: her publisher, Bloomsbury USA, has reissued The Hair of Harold Roux to coincide with her novel's release.
Williams couldn't be happier to see history come full circle. "I've always wanted to get my dad's books back in print," she says. In doing so now, she brings her father's fictional world to a new generation, a readership who will view Cascom Mountain not as his or hers, but as theirs.Return to UNH Magazine Campus Currents