“Portrait of a City: Syracuse the Old Home Town” – Mourning the Loss of Noted Writer, John A. Williams

John Williams passed on July 3rd 2015. With the exception of a few items held by Syracuse University, the University of Rochester holds the complete, extant John A. Williams archive: manuscripts, typescripts, drafts, notes, proofs, photographs, audio-visual materials, ephemera, diaries/journals and correspondence.

Williams worked in television and radio, was a publisher, foreign correspondent, lecturer and college professor.  He has written 29 books and novels, some derived from his experiences growing up in Syracuse, NY.

The following is an excerpt from a piece “Portrait of a City: Syracuse, the Old Home Town”, written in 1964 by John A. Williams noted writer and native Syracusan.

John A Williams, published by Syracuse University Portrait of a City: Syracuse, the Old Home Town

John A Williams, published by Syracuse University;
Portrait of a City: Syracuse, the Old Home Town

Portrait of a City: Syracuse, the Old Home Town

“This was where I lived and grew and was sometimes stunted. Here I romped in the parks, hit the only home run of my life (it was down the third-base line and there was some dispute as to whether
it was fair or foul) and thought at first that all bodies of water had bottoms upon which you could walk while moving your arms and call it swimming. This was where I learned how to ice skate, play
football, basketball, and baseball, and how to play house with the daughters of the neighbors. Here I found books and went plunging through the doors of other worlds. This was where I was taught a
great many myths, but where I also learned a great many truths.

What is this place? Man, it was my home.

I arrived in Syracuse quite early in October last year and went to the real estate agent’s office to pick up the key to the apartment I had leased for a month. I had moved away from Syracuse 11 years before after spending most of my first 28 years there. I had not missed the city, only a few people in it. But I had missed the exhilarating four-phase dance of nature; you feel each of the seasons very keenly in Syracuse. It was not by error that the Iroquois Confederacy chose the area around what is now Syracuse as its headquarters. Nature was most bounteous and seductive there. It still is.

My apartment-which I had secured only because a friend of mine convinced the real estate agent that I was a special kind of Negro, an artist of sorts-was located not in a black ghetto, but on North Salina Street, in the heart of the Italian section. That section, I had learned on good authority, was proving to be the most difficult to integrate…..

……I stood at the window and looked down at the street. It was quiet. Church was over. Syracuse is a church city. There are 252 churches and synagogues throughout Onondaga County, encompassing 28 denominations, and Syracuse is the county seat. Fifty- three percent of the people in the county are Catholic.

I had been across America five times and had flown over or sailed on five of the seven seas; I had visited three continents and been in at least twenty countries. Now I was home again with no pyramids to fill my windows, no sounds of the Mediterranean to wake me, no sprightly calliope music to cheer me as in Amsterdam.

It was just quiet.

Syracuse is a city that traps people. You wait to make your move when the summer is over; summer is a dazzling thing here, with the hills and lawns and trees a lush velvet green. But then comes autumn and the city and the outer edges of it are a wild splash of color: bronze, flaming red, ochre, slowly dying green. No one moves during the winter when the Canadian winds, skirting the western edge of the Adirondacks, come roaring down upon the city. The winters are usually so hard that it takes until spring to get over them, and by then you are trapped again. “

The following is a brief collection of book covers and images. “Click” on image to enlarge.

John A. Williams online archive can be accessed by clicking on the following link: John A Williams Archive University of Rochester

Urban CNY published a story August 2007 on John A. Williams click here: The Man Who Cried I Am: Looking for John A. Williams