Gary Williams grew up in Billings, Montana. His degrees are from Washington University in St. Louis (A.B. 1969) and Cornell University (M.A. 1972, Ph.D. 1973). In graduate school his areas of emphasis were colonial/19th-century American literature/intellectual history and 20th-century British and American fiction.
He has been a member of the English department at the University of Idaho since 1973. He was chair of the department from 1986 to 1996 and an inaugural College of Letters and Science Humanities Fellow in 1998-99. In 2007-08 he held the university's first Distinguished Humanities Professorship and is now again serving as department chair.
He married Joy Passanante in 1970. Joy also teaches at UI,. They have two daughters: Liza, who lives in Brooklyn and uses her theater training teaching for City University of New York; and Emily, who is a Core Investigator for the Veterans Administration in Seattle and an assistant professor of public health at the University of Washington.