Miller Williams, an Arkansas poet and teacher who read a poem at President Bill Clinton’s 1997 inauguration, died Jan. 1 at a hospital in Fayetteville, Ark. He was 84.
The cause was complications from Alzheimer’s disease, family friend Linda Sheets said.
Mr. Williams, a longtime professor at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, helped found the University of Arkansas Press in 1980, and directed it for almost 20 years. He wrote, translated or edited more than 30 books, including a dozen poetry collections, according to the Poetry Foundation.
He was the father of singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams, a three-time Grammy Award winner.
Clinton chose Mr. Williams to read his poem “Of History and Hope” at the 1997 inauguration, making him just the third inaugural poet.
“We mean to be the people we meant to be, to keep on going where we meant to go,” the poem reads.
Clinton called Mr. Williams “one of America’s great poets.”
In a statement, Clinton said: “I will always be grateful for his friendship, which began in 1973 when we were both teaching at the University of Arkansas, and for his beautiful reading at my second inaugural. His words are as meaningful today as they were nearly 20 years ago.”
Mr. Williams, who had campaigned for Clinton’s unsuccessful 1974 congressional bid, said in a 2013 interview that he wanted the poem to be a “consideration of how a look at a nation’s past might help determine where it could be led in the future.
“I knew that the poem would be listened to by a great many people, reprinted around the country, and discussed in a lot of classrooms, so I wanted it to be true, understandable, and agreeable,” he told the Oxford American magazine.
Stanley Miller Williams was born on April 8, 1930, in Hoxie, Ark. His undergraduate degree, from Arkansas State University, was in biology. He later received a master’s degree in zoology from the University of Arkansas.
He taught biology at colleges in Mississippi and Louisiana before he joined the English faculty at Louisiana State University in the early 1960s. He published his first of more than a dozen volumes of poetry in 1964. He had taught at the University of Arkansas since 1971.
Last year, Lucinda Williams put her father’s poem “Compassion” to music as the lead cut on her latest album. She said her father had told her recently that Alzheimer’s disease had robbed him of his ability to write poetry.
“I started crying when he told me that,” she said last year. “It’s like a part of him died. That’s why this is so important to me.”
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Williams’s survivors include his wife, Jordan Williams, and two other children.