NOTED AUTHOR PHILIP LEE WILLIAMS TO BE HONORED AT MADISON-MORGAN CULTURAL CENTER ON MARCH 15
Madison, GA—A noted author and native son will be honored here on March 15 at the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center in an event called Coming Home: Philip Lee Williams, An Appreciation. Williams, who grew up in Madison and graduated from Morgan County High School in 1968, is the author of 19 published books and a member of the prestigious Georgia Writers Hall of Fame.
The event begins on that Sunday afternoon when doors open at 2 p.m. for an exhibit of Williams’s manuscripts and items associated with his writing career on loan from the Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Georgia, where Williams’s papers are located. Williams will speak at 3, followed by an autographing and reception.
The event is sponsored by the Cultural Center and the Morgan County Landmarks Society, and will also include a focus on Williams’s visual art and musical compositions. The event is timed for the release of his 19th published book, The Color of All Things: 99 Love Poems, which will be on sale along with several other recent books.
“I am absolutely thrilled that my home town would think of honoring me this way in a building where I went to the first grade and part of the second,” said Williams, now a resident of nearby Oconee County. “In fact, it was on the very stage where I will speak that I graduated from kindergarten 60 years ago. This event will be a deeply touching turn in the circle of my life.”
Williams’s ties to Madison and Morgan County are deep. His family moved here in 1953 when his father, Marshall W. Williams, accepted a position as a chemistry and physics teacher at Morgan County High School. He was later principal before leaving for a career as an electronics design engineer at the University of Georgia, though he commuted, and the family always lived in Madison. Philip Lee Williams’s mother, Ruth, was co-owner of a private kindergarten for 12 years before ending her career as a caseworker with the local Department of Family and Children Services. She passed away in 2008, but “Mr. Woody,” as Madison knows Marshall Williams, created and has worked at the Morgan County Archives for nearly 29 years—working almost full-time for decades as an unpaid volunteer. He still works there, at age 92, along with Philip Lee Williams’s wife, Linda. And Philip’s brother and sister, Mark Williams and Laura Jane Williams Kuncaitis, also grew up in Madison.
"For the soul of everyone who desires to create, this event will be an eloquent love letter to the muses of literature, music and art," said Kimberly Brown, director of the Cultural Center. “All through this journey, Williams speaks with humor, acceptance and candor of what it means to become a musician, an artist, a writer. It would be too much of a clichè to call him a Rennaisance man. He's a living poem of a man in full."
In addition to growing up in Madison, Williams returned in 1974 to serve as associate editor of The Madisonian newspaper until he, his wife, Linda, and their son, Brandon, moved to Athens where Phil became editor of The Athens Observer newspaper. Their family was completed with the birth of their daughter, Megan, in 1991. Williams worked as a science writer at the University of Georgia for the last 27 years of his career before fully retiring in 2012.
"Phil's family is just as much a landmark worth preserving as any of the fine buildings in Morgan County,” said Terry Tatum, chair of the Landmarks. “His autobiography, which was published in 2014, revives precious memories in those of us who grew up here and opens up a new window to Madison's not so distant past for those who did not."
The Landmarks Society is a non-profit organization founded in 1976 and dedicated to the preservation of the history of Morgan County.
“There is a part of Philip Lee Williams that never left Madison, and Madison is the better for that,” said Lyn Hunt, a trustee of the Cultural Center. “Coming Home, a celebration of Phil’s talent and his work, will conjure memories for long-time Madisonians and offer insights about this community to those who are new. He and Linda were involved in the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center at its beginnings. It is appropriate that the MMCC and the Morgan County Landmarks Society are partnering to bring Phil home for this special event that celebrates his autobiography, It Is Written: My Life in Letters, and his newest book, The Color of All Things: 99 Love Poems."
In addition to being the author of novels, works of creative nonfiction, and poetry, Williams is one of the most honored writers in Georgia history. In addition to being a member of the Hall of Fame with such authors as Margaret Mitchell, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Pat Conroy, and James Dickey, he has been named Georgia Author of the Year four times in three different categories. He won the national Michael Shaara Prize in 2005 for the best novel about the Civil War published in the United States in 2004 for his book A Distant Flame, an honor he received in ceremonies at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston. His first novel in 1984, The Heart of a Distant Forest, won the prestigious Townsend Prize for Fiction, and Williams's The Flower Seeker: An Epic Poem of William Bartram, came out in 2010 and was named national Book of the Year by Books & Culture Magazine.
In 2007, he received a Governor's Award in the Humanities from the State of Georgia during ceremonies in Atlanta. His newest book, The Color of All Things is the winner of Mercer University’s Adrienne Bond Award for Poetry. Mercer also published Williams’s autobiography.
"Any country-loving Georgian will be smitten by Williams’s vibrant narrative of self-motivation, perseverance and ultimate big-city success," said David Buck, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Madison-Morgan Cultural Center.
A number of Williams’s books have been optioned for film by such people as producer Richard Zanuck, director Ron Howard and actress Meg Ryan. He was hired by Zanuck and MGM to write the screenplay of his own book, All the Western Stars, though the film has not yet been made. The movie was five weeks away from filming, with Jack Lemmon and James Garner to star, when Lemmon pulled out of the project, effectively dooming it.
Williams has also published poetry, essays and short stories in more than 40 magazines, and his books have been translated into Swedish, German, French and Japanese and have appeared in large-print editions as well. He is also a composer, with 18 numbered symphonies and numerous concerti to his credit, and has been a visual artist since boyhood. He has an international following, and last year alone he received visitors to his website from people in 57 countries and 42 U.S. states. His books are in libraries worldwide. The Madison-Morgan Cultural Center is housed in a Romanesque Revival red brick building, built in 1895 as one of the South's first graded public schools. Since 1976, it has been a vibrant non-profit multidisciplinary performing and visual arts facility serving the Southeast. For information, call 706-342-4743 or check out the Cultural Center’s website at http://www.mmcc-arts.org/.