Poet and influential anthologist Oscar Williams was born Oscar Kaplan to Russian parents and became fluent in Russian, Yiddish, and Hebrew. Publishers rejected his early poems, and at his sister’s suggestion, he took the pen name Oscar Williams, which he used for the rest of his career. He worked in advertising for 16 years before turning his attention to poetry full-time.
Williams’s collections include The Golden Darkness (1921), which was chosen for the Yale Series of Younger Poets; Hibernalia (1938); and The Man Coming Toward You (1940). As an anthologist, he is responsible for the New Poets series, War Poets (1945), and the Little Treasury series, which helped bring attention to the work of such poets as John Berryman and Dylan Thomas.
Williams died in New York City. Selections of his papers are held at the Lilly Library at Indiana University, Princeton University, and the Houghton Library at Harvard University. The Oscar Williams and Gene Derwood Fund, disbursed by the New York Community Trust, supports artists in need.