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Sad News about Paul O. Williams

Paul O. Williams

January 17, 1935  -  June 2, 2009

The haiku community at large, and the Haiku Poets of Northern California, are deeply saddened by the loss of Paul O. Williams, a great friend and haiku stalwart. He passed away, suddenly and unexpectedly, on June 2, 2009.

Paul first became interested in haiku in 1964 and since then has written and published numerous haiku, senryu, tanka, haibun, and critical essays. Paul was one of the founding members of the Haiku Poets of Northern California in 1989, and served as its president in 1991-92. He was president of the Haiku Society of America in 1999, and vice president of the Tanka Society of America in 2000. He was an active member of the Yuki Teikei Society as well.

Paul wore many hats. He was professor emeritus of English at Principia College in Elsah, Illinois. He was a notable science fiction writer, best known for the Pelbar Cycle, a series of seven novels with a uniquely optimistic vision of an America long after a nuclear war. Paul won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in Science Fiction in 1983. His book The Nick of Time: Essays on Haiku Aesthetics (Press Here, 2001) was winner of the Haiku Society of America’s Merit Award for Best Criticism. Paul was also known for coining the word “Tontoism” to describe haiku with missing articles (“a”, “an”, “the”) thus making haiku sound like the stunted English of the Lone Ranger’s Indian sidekick.

Paul loved cats and was an origami enthusiast as well.  We will miss his laughter, the twinkle in his eye, and his fatherly presence. An opportunity to gather and remember Paul will be announced later.

gone from the woods
the bird I knew
by song alone

            (for Nicolas Virgilio)

for a moment
the dead apple tree bears—

so hard a rain
now even the mountain
flows down the mountain

To post messages about Paul’s passing, or to read tributes to him, go to the Tobacco Road blog at




The Shiki Monthly Kukai has also posted a photo of Paul and many of his haiku at


There is a very nice bio of Paul at the Thoreau Society website. He was president of the society in 1977-78.