Editor’s Note: This is Episode 4 of the Fresno Poets Archive Project. It features Sherley Anne Williams, recorded in February 1986. Background research and closed captioning for this video was compiled by undergraduate student Mayra Cano in Fall 2016. A native of Madera who now considers herself an honorary Fresnan, Mayra is a junior studying both English Literature and Chicano Studies at Fresno State. Her favorite authors include Allen Ginsberg, Rupi Kaur, and Gloria Anzaldúa. She serves as co-editor of La Voz de Aztlán newspaper, as president of the Chicano and Latin American Studies Student Association, and as an ambassador for the College of Arts and Humanities. Mayra plans to pursue a career in teaching.
By Mayra Cano
For the Fresno Poets Archive Project
Author Sherley Anne Williams earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Fresno State and she went on to receive her MA in American Literature from Brown University. In her pursuit of writing, she would publish six books, write a play, travel to Ghana as a recipient of a Fulbright grant, teach at the University of San Diego and at Stanford, win numerous literary awards and also an Emmy Award. She died of cancer in 1999.
When I think of Williams’ work, I consider its magnitude. She was a writer decorated with many honors and achievements. However, for me, what distinguishes Williams from other successful Fresno writers is the authenticity and tenacity with which she wrote.
Williams was Black, the only Black woman included in the 2001 anthology about Fresno poets titled How Much Earth. Her poetry explored themes regarding race and gender that no other Fresno poet was writing at that time, such as in her poem “This is a Sad-Ass Poem for a Black Woman to Be Writing,” which closes with:
Good jive, a light rap
and fly speech over
a public table.
Or, in her poem “Any Woman’s Blues,” which starts with:
and this the way that shit come down:
My bed one-sided
from me sleepin alone so mucha the time.
In her poetry and prose, Williams represents a population of Fresno writers that is often unseen or ignored. In this manner, her work is representative of not just herself, but of the many women of color who have, or are currently attempting to, carve a place for themselves in a literary world that is historically male and white — a point that is eloquently made in her introduction in this archival video from 1986.
For these reasons, Williams’ work is imperative to the narrative surrounding Fresno writers. Her work illustrates how women of color can, and continue to, achieve excellence against all odds. Her work, in this video, can now be heard anew from the poet herself.