Tributes paid to Sheffield professor and poet Noel Williams

Friends and colleagues have paid tribute to Professor Noel Williams who died suddenly at the age of 68.

Monday, 4th October 2021, 1:48 pm
Updated Monday, 4th October 2021, 1:48 pm

The gifted poet, linguist and academic was born in 1952 and spent his childhood in Crookes. He was well known in the city and further afield through his wide-ranging interests in military history, contemporary art, folklore and computer technology.

Noel obtained a first class degree in English from Cambridge University and returned to his home city to complete a PhD in folklore at the former Centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language, University of Sheffield.

He began his academic career as a lecturer in communication studies at the City Polytechnic in 1979 and became the city’s first Professor of Communication at Sheffield Hallam University in 2005.

Noel Williams.

Noel married his childhood sweetheart Carrol before he returned to Sheffield and the couple remained in the city, raising a family. He leaves three grown-up children and a granddaughter.

Colleagues described Noel as modest, sensitive and approachable, encouraging many young academics, poets and writers in their careers.

One of his many friends at Sheffield Hallam, Reader in Language and Communication, Dr Peter Jones, described Noel as inspirational.

He said: ‘He was endlessly patient and kind in sharing materials and giving advice. Noel was friendly and good humoured.’

Noel Williams.

Noel’s love of Sheffield was featured in an exhibition Skylines at Bank Street Arts, a series of poems and photographs arranged against the timeline of his life in the city.

Art was often at the forefront of his creative writing. In 2009 he was awarded a residency at Bank Street Arts to develop a poem sequence on the theme ‘Women and Warfare’ that was exhibited as ‘Exploding Poetry’.

Noel also ran many local poetry workshops, mainly for community groups and schools, usually working with local community arts organisation Art in the Park.

He was associate editor of the poetry magazine Orbis and co-edited, with his friend Rosemary Badcoe, the online magazine Antiphon that set out to publish some of the best poetry in the UK.

Rosemary said: “As well as great poetry, we'd publish reviews of new poetry books - Noel was particularly good at editing and mentoring poets.”

They met while studying for a masters in creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University. Rosemary added: “I remember he gave a particularly harsh critique of a draft of a children's book I was trying to write.

"But actually he was always very generous with his thoughts and his time.”

Noel published his first collection, Out of Breath in 2014 and a second, Point me at the stars, in 2017.

In a tribute in Orbis, writer David Harmer adds: ‘He was a dear friend, a very funny companion, a thoroughly decent man and an extremely fine poet.”

Noel died at home in August and a funeral was held at Hutcliffe Wood crematorium on September 17. Donations in his memory can be made to The Woodland Trust.

A live event to celebrate Noel and his work is being planned by his friends.