Often called a social poet, C.K. Williams is fascinated by the characters of modern civilization and their interactions.

Why you should listen

C.K. Williams started writing poetry at 19, after taking only his required English classes at University of Pennsylvania. In the 1960s, he began gearing his poems toward social issues, such as the brutality that  civil rights activists often faced and his anti-war stance with respect to Vietnam. Over time, although he continued to write about society, his work became more personal. His focus shifted to the intersection of profoundly different lives in crowded urban spaces, using these instances to examine sensitive issues such as race and class.    

The subject matter of his work is not its only controversy, and Williams is often compared to Whitman and Ginsberg because of his unusually long lines of verse. Despite his unconventional poetic form, he has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, among other honors. He has also published five works of translation and a psychologically introspective memoir, Misgivings: My Mother, My Father, Myself.

What others say

“To put it simply, C.K. Williams is a wonderful poet, in the authentic American tradition of Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams, who tells us on every page what it means to be alive in our time.” — Stanley Kunitz

C.K. Williams’ TED talk

C.K. Williams on the TED Blog

Poetry for all seasons of life: C.K. Williams on TED.com

March 30, 2009

Poet C.K. Williams reads his work at TED2001. As he colors scenes of childhood resentments, college loves, odd neighbors and the literal death of youth, he reminds us of the unique challenges of living. (Recorded at TED2001, February 2001, in Monterey, California. Duration: 23:18.) Watch C.K. Williams’ reading from TED2001 on TED.com, where you can […]

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Quotes from C.K. Williams

But oh, her soap! Might its bitter burning / have been what made me a poet?
C.K. Williams
TED2001 • 196K views Mar 2009
Beautiful, Inspiring
Too many lives in our lives already, too many chances for sorrow, too many unaccounted-for pasts.
C.K. Williams
TED2001 • 196K views Mar 2009
Beautiful, Inspiring