Jack Williamson

(April 29, 1908–November 10, 2006) John Stewart Williamson, who wrote as Jack Williamson (and occasionally under the pseudonym Will Stewart) was a U.S. writer often referred to as the “Dean of Science Fiction”

Williamson was born April 29, 1908 in Bisbee, Arizona Territory, and spent his early childhood in western Texas. In search of better pastures, his family migrated to rural New Mexico in a horse-drawn covered wagon in 1915. The farming was difficult there and the family turned to ranching, which they continue to this day.

Williamson received his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in English in the 1950s from Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU) in Portales (near the Texas panhandle), joining the faculty of that university in 1960. He remained affiliated with the school for the rest of his life. In the late 1990s, he established a permanent trust to fund the publication of El Portal, ENMU’s journal of literature and art. In the 1980s, he made a sizable donation of books and original manuscripts to ENMU’s library, which resulted in the formation of a Special Collections department; the library now is home to the Jack Williamson Science Fiction Library, which ENMU’s website describes as “one of the top science fiction collections in the world.” In addition, Williamson hosted the Jack Williamson Lectureship Series, an annual panel discussion in which two science fiction authors were invited to speak to attendees on a set topic. The Jack Williamson Liberal Arts building houses the Mathematics, Art, and Languages & Literature Departments of the university.

Williamson completed his Ph.D. in English literature at the University of Colorado in Boulder, focused on H.G. Wells’ earlier works, demonstrating that Wells was not the naive optimist that many believed him to be. In the field of science, Jack Williamson coined the word terraforming in a science-fiction story, “Collision Orbit,” published in 1942 in Astounding Science Fiction.

In the mid 1970s, Williamson was named a Grand Master of Science Fiction by the Science Fiction Writers of America. He was only the second person to receive this honor. The first was Robert A. Heinlein.

After retiring from teaching full-time in 1977, Williamson spent some time concentrating on his writing, but after being named Professor Emeritus by ENMU, he was coaxed back to co-teach two evening classes, “Creative Writing” and “Fantasy and Science Fiction” (he pioneered the latter at ENMU during his full-time professorship days). Williamson continued to co-teach these two classes into the 21st century.

In November 2006, Williamson died at his home in Portales, New Mexico at age 98. Despite his age, he had made an appearance at the Spring 2006 Jack Williamson Lectureship and published a 320-page novel, The Stonehenge Gate, in 2005.

—adapted from the Wikipedia entry on Jack Williamson