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Coming “Home” with Samm-Art Williams

Friday from the Archives: “Writing His Way Home: An Interview with Samm-Art Williams” by Laura Grace Pattillo in NCLR Issue 16 (2007)

North Carolina is rich with stories told through all genres of writing. Some of the state’s writers chose the script to share their words. Samm-Art Williams, long time son of Burgaw, has written dozens of scripts and screenplays over the years, having produced work in New York and Hollywood. Closer to home, Raleigh Little Theater was the first local or community theater producers of his work.

In our 2007 issue, we published an interview Laura Grace Pattillo did with Williams in which the playwright reminisces about writing his best known play, Home, as well as growing up in and returning to Burgaw, NC, and the characters he knew there, many of them family and relations.

Williams says, “I think pretty much all of my work will be set in the South from now on. I’m living back here now, and I’ve always considered myself a Southern writer.” At the time, this was a hindrance to a thriving career in NYC/CA, as Williams acknowledges: “If these people are looking down on me because I’m from the South, that means I’ve really got to stand up for myself. You have to deliver.” With the rise of the National Black Theater Festival here in Winston-Salem, NC (where Williams has had many plays produced) and the growth of the film industry in Georgia, some of this mentality has changed since the early 2000s.

Echoing many other Southern writers, Williams talks about the need to leave home in order to appreciate it more fully. “I don’t think you have to move away, but you can sit in Burgaw or any town every day and have a true perspective on the world. You have to travel, even if it’s only for two days a week or two days a month. You have to go away to get some contrast and a sense of who you are, where you are, and where the rest of the world is.”

The 2007 issue “Commemorating 100 Years of Writers and Writing at ECU” is not yet available on ProQuest, but you can order the issue for your collection. And while you wait for your issue to arrive, read about one of Williams’s honors, which we covered in 2014.