WILMINGTON — John Sibley Williams, originally from Wilmington, recently won the Orison Poetry Prize for his collection “As One Fire Consumes Another,” which was released on April 2.
Sibley attended Wilmington public schools throughout his childhood, graduating from Wilmington High School in 1997. He then went on to graduate from the University of New York-Albany with a BA in Writing. Also, he obtained MAs in Creative Writing from Rivier University, and Book Publishing from Portland State University in Portland, Oregon.
Williams began writing short fiction as a child, continuing to do so through high school and college. He wrote his first poem at the age of 21, after becoming inspired on a summer trip to a lake in New York
“I began writing something that obviously wasn’t a story. What was it? Impressions. Colors. Emotions. Strange images,” he said. “I ran back to the car, took out a little notebook, and spent hours emptying myself of visions and fears and joys I don’t think I even knew I had. Since that surreal and confusing moment by that little city lake 19 years ago, poetry has become my creative obsession and life’s work, the lens through which I better comprehend the world and my tiny part in it.”
The inspiration for “As One Fire Consumes Another” was rooted in cultural and political issues as they are implied within interpersonal situations, specifically concerning his own identity.
“I found myself questioning not just my country, culture, and history but nearly everything that defines me,” he said. “I struggled to faithfully explore the extent of my personal privilege as a white, CIS, able-bodied male whose labors and strains are so trifling compared to others. I wanted to stare guilt and complicity square in the eye.”
Like within much of his other work, common themes include human attachments and disconnects: to others, to self-perception, to culture and politics, to nature, to language, to the past and future, to hurt and healing.
In addition to “As One Fire Consumes Another,” Williams is the author of three other poetry collections: “Skin Memory” (Backwaters Prize, University of Nebraska Press, 2019), “Disinheritance,” and “Controlled Hallucinations.”
He is a 19-time Pushcart nominee, and the winner of numerous awards, including the Wabash Prize for Poetry, Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, Nancy D. Hargrove Editors' Prize, Confrontation Poetry Prize, and Laux/Millar Prize.
He also serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review. Previous publishing credits include: The Yale Review, Midwest Quarterly, Southern Review, Sycamore Review, Prairie Schooner, The Massachusetts Review, Poet Lore, Saranac Review, Atlanta Review, TriQuarterly, Columbia Poetry Review, Mid-American Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, and various anthologies.
Aside from writing, Williams currently teaches literacy to middle school students at the local nonprofit: A Renaissance School of Arts & Sciences in Portland, Oregon, and works as a freelance poetry editor and literary agent. He is also the father of two twin toddlers.
Additionally, he works towards helping emerging authors, teaching regional workshops, and working as a literary agent, poetry editor, and writing coach.