Rice Says Farewell to Professor and Mentor

Rice Says Farewell to Professor and Mentor

News Staff

George G. Williams, who taught English literature and creative writing at Rice University for 40 years and influenced a long list of well-known authors, died Dec. 1. He was 97 years old.

His former students include writers William Goyen, who wrote “The House of Breath”; John Graves, author of “Goodbye to a River”; David Westheimer, who wrote the best-selling “Von Ryan’s Express”; and Larry McMurtry,Pulitzer Prize winner for his novel “Lonesome Dove.”

Williams was born May 1, 1902, in Rogers, Texas. In a 1976 interview Goyen, who died 16 years before his teacher, said Williams “embodied my salvation and my escape to a world I could create out of myself, make fair and joyous. George Williams gave me the very first invitation to creative freedom.”

Williams came to Rice Institute in 1919 as a freshman. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1923 and went on to complete his master’s degree in English. He taught briefly at New York University before returning to Rice, where he remained throughout his career. In 1968, he was named professor emeritus and in 1996 he was named as a Rice distinguished alumni.

His books include “Creative Writing for Advanced College Classes” (1935), which remained in print for almost 40 years; “The Blind Bull” (1952), a novel that won first prize from the Texas Institute of Letters; “British Poems of the 19th Century” (1957); “Some of My Best Friends are Professors” (1958), a look inside the academic world; “A New View of Chaucer” (1965); and “A Guide to Literary London” (1973).

Williams may best be known among former students for sponsoring the Rice Writing Club.

In 1992, in honor of Williams’ 90th birthday, his friends and former students endowed the George Guion Williams Prize for Excellence in Creative Writing by an Undergraduate Student at Rice. The prize is awarded at the end of each academic year for prose and poetry alternately.

While teaching English, he also cultivated his love for ornithology. He wrote many articles about birds for scientific journals and a book on bird migration that was published in 1961.

He helped to establish the Houston Museum of Natural Science and served as its first board president from 1948 to 1950.Williams is survived by a son, Steven Guion Williams, and by a grandson, Carlos Guion Williams, and his grandson’s mother, Maria G. Williams.

A memorial service for Williams will be held at 6 p.m. Friday in the Rice Memorial Chapel.

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