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Jonathan Williams Feature

Michael Rumaker’s Last Letter to Jonathan Williams

193 North Franklin Street
Nyack New York 10960

Friday, March 14, 2008

Dearest Jonathan,


Belated March 8th birthday greetings. Am most distressed to hear that you’re laid up in the hospital — what a rotten place to welcome in your 79th year. Hope your illness turns round in this turning of the season and you will be back with Tom in dear old Highlands in that beloved home the 2 of you have made there together over many a year now since first meeting at Bard. Just the thought of those gorgeous surrounding mountains going that heartbreakingly smoky green in the commonplace miracle of spring is something I sure hope you’re at home again to see, you who have brought that same sense of miracle into the enchanting and delightful freewheeling handsprings of your many years of writing and singing out loud your ‘pomes,’ as Whitman called his (and, were he around to hear them, would I betcha’ give the nod to yours hands down).


Well, I had my 76th on March 5th, which makes us fellow Pisceans (’the old souls,’ as Olson might’ve said), the poets and the dreamers, the visionaries — Not sure I can claim much of that for myself, but evidence of that is certainly in your work, both in its written form and in all the work you’ve done for so many decades, keeping the word alive and sprightly in all its authentic nooks and crannies, in all the equally authentic overlooked spirits hidden in plain sight throughout the piedmont and hills of North Carolina, throughout the Southland and wherever your feet and that old station wagon took you roaming and looking. And the books — yes, those superb and beautiful books you made: what a grand treasure for all our eyes. What a grand treasure and illumination your life has been in these benighted States, in these benighted times.


Well, old fellow Black Mountaineer — old Black Mountain-ear — wasn’t that a gift and pleasure, despite the hardships, to have been there, to have found our feet on that lively (sacred?) ground. Sure were lucky. And among so many that I met and cherished there, whose memory I’ve kept in my heart all these years, including your own, since we all scattered out into world after Black Mountain closed, well, those memories have and still are riches beyond riches.


This is mainly to say, dear Jonathan, I hope you’ll be up and about soon. Are you planning to be at the Black Mountain College celebration at Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory in September? I sure do hope so. It’ll be more than wonderful to see you again, you and Tom, together as it should be, so we can chew over old Black Mountain days and speculate on what’s the latest, the newest, ahead on the road.

Much love always,

Mike Rumaker [1]

[1] Editor’s note: This letter was sent to co-editor Jeffery Beam two days after Williams’ death. Jeffery and Michael had been introduced by Jonathan, of course. After some correspondence they first met at the one and only Black Mountain College Reunion in October 1995 at the old Lake Eden campus near Black Mountain, where their friendship deepened, and Michael joined the mentors that Jonathan bigheartedly bestowed upon Jeffery. Although Michael believed Jonathan did not read this letter, Tom Meyer did carry it in to Jonathan and read it to him in the hospital. Michael attached this hand-written note to the photocopied letter he sent to Beam:

March 18, 2008

Jeffery dear, the loss of Jonathan saddens us all … I was very sorry my March 14th letter to him arrived too late for him to read, but I wanted you to have this copy, in our shared love and deep admiration for a man who gave us so much.

Love always to you and Stan,


Michael Rumaker is the author of the memoir Black Mountain Days, Pizza: Selected Poems, and the novel Pagan Days. He is a graduate of Black Black Mountain College and Columbia University and has taught at City College of New York and The New School for Social Research.

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