William Carlos Williams (1883 –1963) was a physician and revolutionary figure in poetry. His most anthologized poem, "The Red Wheelbarrow," is an example of imagism, although Williams would later become strongly associated with the American modernist movement in literature. Known for his prolific output, he produced many volumes of poetry, prose, drama, and even wrote an autobiography. In 1963, Williams was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for "Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems." Previously, he'd received the Gold Medal for Poetry from the National Institute of Arts and Letters and the National Book Award for Poetry. All the while, Williams had a long career as a physician, practicing both pediatrics and general medicine and serving as Passaic General Hospital's Chief of Pediatrics for nearly four decades. In honor of his numerous professional and artistic achievements, Williams's house in Rutherford, New Jersey is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1902, at 18, Williams entered the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine. In those days, it was common for high school students to enter the medical program upon completion of a special examination. But Williams was anything but a common student. At UPenn, he was a member of Mask and Wig (the oldest all-male collegiate musical comedy troupe in the U.S.); a varsity fencer; and art editor of his medical school yearbook, which also listed Williams as one of the “most versatile” students of 1906. He excelled in his scholastics, too, scoring high marks (90 or above) in subjects including medical chemistry, ophthalmology, physiology, operative surgery, and hygiene, among others. Just as important, it was at UPenn that Williams befriended the American poet Ezra Pound, who would greatly influence Williams as a writer.
Following his 1906 graduation, Williams remained deeply attached to his alma mater. In 1952, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters. Additionally, the spirit of Williams lives on at UPenn in different ways. Today, the poetry prize for the best original poems by a UPenn graduate student (in any school) is named the William Carlos Williams Prize, presented jointly with the Academy of American Poets. Meanwhile, UPenn continues to celebrate the literacy legacy of one of the great 20th century poets by maintaining the William Carlos Williams research collection in the university's Rare Book & Manuscript Library.