Introduction to Latina and Latino Literature/William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams [edit | edit source]
Brief Biography[edit | edit source]
One of the most unknown facts of the famous poet, William Carlos Williams is his Latino background. Williams was born on September 17th, 1883 in Rutherford, New Jersey to William George Williams and Raquel Helene Rose Hoheb. William Carlos Williams’s father was born in Great Britain but grew up in various islands on the Caribbean while his mother was from Puerto Rico. In the Williams household, English, French and Spanish were the primary languages spoken. Williams’ attachment to his Latino culture stemmed from his appreciation of the Spanish language. Williams’ attended school in Europe and completed high school in New York City. After that, he attended the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1902. Williams became a pediatrician and opened a rather successful practice in his hometown of Rutherford where he lived with his wife, Florence Herrman and their two sons. Williams is best known for being one of the most prominent American Modernists but Williams was also heavily involved in the Latino Literary Tradition. His Latino descent allowed him to create poems and essays to expresses his admiration and interest in the struggles Latinos face. Williams’ interest becomes evident in much of his work where you often used Spanish titles as well as Spanish words and included various diverse references of the Latino culture.
Place in Latina/o Literature[edit | edit source]
William Carlos Williams is known for being a leader of the American Modernists movement, but was also majorly involved with the Latino Literary Tradition. As a modernist, Williams had a desire to break from past traditions of literature. He and other modernist rejected any literary traditions that seemed outdated, and diction that appeared to be too genteel. As a participant of the Latino Literary Tradition, he was a pioneer. Williams was able to use his words to describe the difficulties, the history and successes of both Puerto Rican and Latino culture.
Comparison to Other Latina/o Authors[edit | edit source]
William Carlos Williams and Pedro Pietri: In “Libertad! Igualdad! Fraternidad!” William Carlos Williams displays the struggles of the immigrant workers constantly working in order to get by. The characters in the poem discuss their reasons for dreaming and come to the realization that the American Dream they strive for, is nearly impossible to attain. Yet, dreaming is the only thing they can do. Dreaming is what keeps them working because there is nothing wrong with a dream to help one get through a day of strenuous labor. This theme of the unattainable American Dream is also displayed in the work of many other Latino authors including Pedro Pietri. Pedro Pietri was an imperative poet in the Nuyorican movement. His poetry made powerful statements about the struggles of Puerto Ricans who move to the United States hoping to escape poverty and struggle. Like Williams, Pietri identified as a Puerto Rican. His poetry discusses assimilation and the transition from the island of Puerto Rico, to the United States. In the poem “Puerto Rican Obituary,” Pietri proves, like Williams, that the American Dream is just that, a dream. The poem starts, “They worked/They were always on time/They were never late” (Pietri 1). These lines show that these Puerto Ricans were hard workers who did that they had to do like Williams does in his poem with the lines, “you force me into the mud/with your stinking ash-cart” (2). In both poems, the American dream is discussed. Pietri states in his poem, “These dreams/These empty dreams/from the make believe bedrooms/ their parents left them/ are the after-effects of television programs/about the ideal white american families” (110). These lines focus on how these Puerto Ricans were so caught up on the dreams they saw on television, which were usually portrayed as the life for a typical American family. Williams also focuses on the difficulties that come with dreams, he states “It is dreams that have destroyed us” (8). Both poets critique the American Dream in ways that can resonate with Puerto Ricans and Latinos as well.
Analysis of Specific Texts[edit | edit source]
"Libertad! Igualdad! Fraternidad!" The poem “Libertad! Igualdad! Fraternidad!” Is about two brothers involved with strenuous labor. One brother dreams of being rich and living a life where they wouldn’t have to work as hard as they do while the other brothers argues that impossible dreams as such are just that, impossible dreams. He argues that such dreams are what hurt them because they give them false hope. The brothers understand that there is no pride in the field of labor in which they’re in and they know they are stuck doing nothing but working and thinking of their difficulties. The more positive brother argues that even though life is difficult, dreams are not the worst thing we can do because keeping our hopes up for more positive things, are the only things that keep us going.
No origin of this poem has been found but it is included in the Norton Anthology of Latino Literature and is featured in various collected works of Williams. The title of the poem is what the motto for the French Revolution was causing one to believe that Williams believed it was time for a revolution amongst the working immigrants struggling to attain the American Dream.
"Apology" The poem “Apology,” touches on the difficulties faced by people whose only way to survive is to work. The poem serves to portray the everyday life of the working class citizen who has to constantly work. In the poem, the narrator is questioning his reason for even writing the poem, but when he sees the women of color working both day and night in order to live; he knows that is his reason for writing. The narrator stressed the importance of the hard workers and compares it to the work of those who are supposed to be hard workers, “leading citizens---,” but those in the field set to lead, such as politics, have done nothing compared to the time and effort put into the work of the “colored women, day workers--,” the title is simple to apologize for excessive work they partake in, in order to strive.
The poem “Apology,” was original published in the poetry magazine, Poetry: A Magazine of Verse on November 2, 1916. The poem was published alongside other works by Williams. At the time, the editor of this magazine was Harriet Monroe. Williams’s first poem published in this magazine was in 1913 and he continued to contribute to the magazine until about 1922.
Literary Criticism[edit | edit source]
Lisa Sanchez Gonzalez, a professor at UCONN and an expert in Boricua Literature, discusses how both William Carlos Williams and Arturo Schomburg were essential components to molding what Latino literature is today. Gonzalez starts by introducing readers to Williams often unknown Latino past. She mentions how his mother was born in Mayaguez, a place in Puerto Rico and though his father was born in England, he was shaped by Caribbean culture. Gonzalez focuses on Williams “critical appropriations of historical documentation in efforts to revise the master narratives of colonization in the Americas’ history” She focuses on major themes evident in Williams’ work like racism, genocide and colonialism. Much of Williams work served as critique to pre and post-colonial times. Gonzalez also states, “Williams approaches history as a mélange of affective correlatives that he culls from extant and imaginary historical sources, which together in this text represent the possibility of a sort of coeval empathy in fiction.” In this literary criticism, Gonzales wants to prove that Williams way of writing kept historical events as real as possible. Williams words explain the past as it was, leaving no gruesome details out.
Links to Online Copies of Texts[edit | edit source]
“Apology” From Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, November, 1916: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/apology-42/
“Libertad! Igualdad! Fraternidad!”: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/libertad-igualdad-fraternidad-2/
Miscellaneous Links[edit | edit source]
- William Carlos Williams on Mary McBride Radio Show in 1950
- William Carlos Williams Biography
- Visual Adaptation of “The Descent,” by William Carlos Williams
- Article in the New York Times about the friendship of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams
- William Carlos Williams Center for the Performing Arts
Syllabi[edit | edit source]
- ENG E-157: The Makers of Modern Poetry Harvard Fall 2012
- HUSL 6312: T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams: Dueling Modernist UTDallas Spring 2012
- ENG 342A: Studies in Poetry: Poetry Survey U. of Portland Fall 2006
- ENG 2490: Introduction to Latino/a Literature U. of Omaha Fall 2013
- CLA 4935: Latino/a Culture Penn State 2013
Bibliography of Secondary Sources[edit | edit source]
- Johnson, Bob. "A Whole Synthesis of His Time": Political Ideology and Cultural Politics in the Writings of William Carlos Williams, 1929-1939 American Quarterly, 54.2 (June 2002): 179-215.
- Stavans, Ilan, and Edna Belen, eds. "The Nuyorican Movement." The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2011. 243. Print.
- William L. O'Neill and Kenneth T. Jackson, eds. "William Carlos Williams." Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives, Thematic Series: The 1960s, Vol. 2, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 2003.