She is the acclaimed author of four novels and two collections of short stories and a collection of essays. Her first novel, State of Grace , was a National Book Award nominee and brought Williams much popular and critical attention. She followed these with three more novels: The Changeling , Breaking and Entering  and The Quick and the Dead . Her most recent work is a collection of essays, Ill Nature: Rants and Reflections on Humanity and Other Animals .
Her first collection of short stories, Taking Care  established her as a powerful writer of short fiction. Richard Ford, writing in The Chicago Tribune, called the stories in this collection "finely made and perfectly matched [that] hold love up to us like a dark, fractured bauble that we should see, reflected and to our astonishment, what moments in our familiar lives it dominates." A second collection, Escapes, appeared in 1990. Reviewing Escapes in The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani said, "Ms. Williams demonstrates an intuitive ability to delineate the complexities of an individual character in a few brief pages, a gift for finding those significant moments that reveal the somber verities lurking beneath the flash and clamor of daily life."
Many of Williams' short stories and essays have appeared in the Best American collections and anthologies, and a short story published in Antaeus won a National Magazine Award. She is also the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, and the Harold and Mildred Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters.
Jurors for the 1999 Rea Award, Robert Coover, Susan Dodd, and John Edgar Wideman, said the following of her work:
"The stories of Joy Williams dissolve the lines between chaos and certainty in our daily lives. A single word or sentence, heartbreakingly familiar yet utterly unexpected, ushers us abruptly out of bounds, off-limits. Because her prose is precise and unyielding, because the possibilities her stories imagine - funny, nasty, subversive, enlightening, scary - are compelling alternatives to the usual spin we put on things, we are seduced, freed to examine the arbitrariness of the particular peace or unpeace we've negotiated with the world. But even as it makes us uncomfortable, Joy Williams' fiction renders more light, more life."