Born in Rutherford, Williams began writing poetry at Horace Mann High School, where he also made the decision to become a writer and a doctor. He received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania then returned to Rutherford, where he practiced medicine throughout his life. It is estimated that he delivered as many as 2,000 babies in Rutherford during his career. Williams also embarked on a prolific writing career, publishing poetry, novels, stories, essays, plays, autobiographical works and letters. His many awards include the first National Book Award for poetry, the Bollingen Prize, and a Pulitzer Prize. An immensely popular doctor, he attained equal popularity as a poet over the years. Allen Ginsburg and the Beat Poets of the 1950s and 1960s regarded him as a most important mentor. Even today, poets and lyricists as diverse as Debbie Harry and Bruce Springsteen acknowledge his influences.