Keeping alumni and friends connected to U-M

Ralph Williams

The wind is very much up

By Deborah Holdship
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The “American project”

Conversation is a rare and wonderful commodity in today’s world of email, text, and Twitter.

In this episode of the Michigan Today podcast, “Listen in, Michigan,” we tap into that rare and wonderful commodity in the form of a chat with Ralph Williams, PhD ’70, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus in the Department of English, Language, and Literature.

Few conversational partners speak with such erudition and elegance. And even fewer can quote from the Bible or Shakespeare’s work as freely as Williams. As for topics, how often does one discuss the meaning of happiness, the future of mankind, or the “paradox” at the heart of the American project?

If you’re a former student of Williams’ we hope you enjoy hearing his voice again. If you never took one of his courses, we encourage you to listen. It’s a short philosophical trip that simultaneously soothes, encourages, and challenges the listener.


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Friend of the mind

Williams, born in Canada, has been teaching at U-M since 1970. In the past five decades he has served as associate chair of the Department of English (twice) and as director of the Program on Studies in Religion. He was instrumental in creating and developing the Royal Shakespeare Company Residency program at the University.

Williams has studied 15 languages, including Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. He specializes in Medieval and Renaissance literature, Shakespeare, literary theory, comparative literature, and Biblical studies.

In 2009 students awarded him the first Golden Apple Lifetime Achievement Award, at which time he delivered his “last lecture.” But Williams found he could not stay out of the classroom, and returned to teaching in 2011.

Share your memories about Williams in the comments section below.

Deborah Holdship

Deborah Holdship

DEBORAH HOLDSHIP is the editor of Michigan Today. She joined the University in 2007 as editorial manager in the marketing communications department at the Ross School of Business, where she was editor of Dividend magazine for five years. Prior to working at Michigan, Deborah was associate director of publications at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. From 1988-2001, Deborah worked in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, where she was a reporter and editor at Billboard magazine and an associate editor and video producer at LAUNCH media. Follow her on Twitter: @michigantoday.