Poet Phillip B. Williams is the type of artist shaped far more by the people he’s known than the places he’s been or the events he’s been a part of.
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
“I’m from Chicago," Williams said. "That’s hometown, that’s grade school, that’s high school. I spent most of my childhood there and I started writing very, very young. So, it was in first grade that I decided that this was something I wanted to do, at least for fun. I didn’t start taking writing seriously until I went to undergrad.”
Williams said he has changed course over his history as a writer, switching from prose to poetry.
“Even then I didn’t know if I wanted to do poetry," Williams said. "I thought I wanted to do fiction. It was more so not really events, but people who came into my life and said ‘hey, this is what you should be doing.’”
Williams said he doesn’t cherish awards and accolades as a poet, but rather the opportunity to share them with the people he loves.
“It’s not the prize, like ‘oh yeah, I won this prize,’" Williams said. "It’s like, ‘hey mom, I won this prize.' Being able to email her, or call her, or text her, and say ‘hey, this is going on.'"
Williams said sharing his success with his mother has become a huge part of his life.
"I recently was able to take her to the image awards ceremony for the NAACP, because my book was nominated for that," Williams said. "Being able to share all this stuff that’s happened with her has been very important to me.”
Williams elaborated on his fixation with individuals rather than places or events, speculating how performance and image shapes our everyday interactions.
“I study craft, but I get a lot of enjoyment from communicating with other people, other poets, especially younger poets and just seeing how our relationships in and of themselves can be a kind of art, almost like performance art," Williams said. "That’s creepy right?”
Williams said he is often treated differently in the writing community for his race.
“What’s starting to happen is, because of all the conversations around race, people are commodifying it in an interesting way," Williams said. "Now it’s like, ‘can you give us a poem about race?’ How do you go from people judging you, saying that 'this isn’t real poetry' because it’s overtly about ‘just race' to people saying, ‘our journal would really benefit if you would send us one of your ‘black poems.'"
Williams commented on some of the racial tensions spurred by recent political controversies and how those tensions have affected his work.
“I’m always going to write about what I want, but something weird about what’s happening right now is that it’s not much different from what’s already happened,” Williams said. “Because this isn’t much different from what’s been going on, I’m going to keep writing about what’s been going on.”
As for the future, Williams said he foresees new horizons for his career.
“I think I’m going to get back into fiction…I had completely abandoned it," Williams said. "I want to get back to it, though. I feel like prose can do things that poetry doesn’t have a space for. I wanna be a little more expansive."
While he is working on new material, Williams said he doesn’t have a concrete release schedule for new collections or novels.
“I don’t know about the future of anything until it’s done, and nothing is done right now,” Williams said.
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman