This site highlights some of my past and future fiction writing projects as well as “Strivers and Other Stories“, my short story collection which won a Washington Writers’ Publishing House Fiction Prize and was published by the press in November 2016. I am currently querying on a second finished novel manuscript.
I was born and raised in Augusta, Georgia, the home the Masters golf tournament and James Brown. The youngest of seven siblings, I had a well-fed and fun childhood: good grades, ranch house with a sprawling yard, big Sunday dinners, occasional beach vacations, color TV with cable, Matchbox cars, hide-and-go-seek, kickball, and “roll to the bat.”
Good parents, book-loving educators both; no childhood drama, save a few dog bites and not wanting to go to kindergarten and Sunday school. Went off to Northwestern University, survived Freshman year, played trumpet in the finest marching band in the land, and eventually got a degree in English Literature and Writing. Asked a career counselor what to do next and he replied: “What do you like to do?” I told him I like to write. He said, “Have you thought about marketing and advertising?” I thought about it and went to grad school at the University of Georgia’s Grady School of Journalism and Mass Communications to study that. Moved to the Washington, D.C. area in ’93 and have been there ever since.
The first story I remember writing was about a shark. It was called “Sharky.” My second-grade teacher at Terrace Manor Elementary (TMU!) really liked it. I started writing stories again while an English major and in the undergrad writing program at Northwestern, where I probably was most influenced by some darn good professors like Barbara Newman, Kenneth Warren, Robert Boswell, Lawrence Evans and Joseph Epstein, even though the latter two’s patrician natures and conservative politics grated me and most of my classmates. Good life lesson though: open your mind and you can learn from anybody.
I completed a novella for a senior project and have subsequently written dozens of short stories, a few screenplays, and a couple of novel manuscripts. I am currently querying an adult novel manuscript dealing with a family’s history, generational relationships and Black migration.
Over the years I’ve participated in small self-formed writing groups and formal writing workshops held at the University of San Francisco (VONA/Voices), the University of Iowa (Iowa Summer Writing Festival), George Washington University, Howard University (Hurston/Wright Writers Week), Augusta University and the University of Oxford in the UK (Callaloo Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters). On jobs, I’ve been known to write lengthy emails that often go unread by colleagues who prefer digestible bullet points over long winded prose.
What I Write About
A few of my short stories are rooted in family history and lore. Some are inspired by my childhood in Georgia during the 70s and 80s, an under-appreciated time and place in my estimation, as those post-civil-rights decades down South were so full of new adventures, opportunities and promises unfulfilled for Black folks. Others are simple explorations of characters who find themselves faced with the moral dilemmas of everyday life.
Like many first efforts, my first novel manuscript draws from real life experiences: Going to college, meeting people, working for the man, making life choices along the way. It is also reflective of my fiction creative process which attempts to “answer” the questions I have about how individuals (characters) navigate the systems and people that regulate their lives and how that subtly plays out in personal interactions. My second novel manuscript is about a protagonist unearthing his family’s history with the help of a chorus of long lost relatives, dead and alive. I am currently working on a third novel about [redacted].
My fiction writing tends to be very character focused and driven by dialogue and crisply defined and efficient scenes. Friends, fellow-writers and past workshop participants have commented that my writing is clean, occasionally witty, and unpretentious. At least one reader compared me to Mat Johnson, which I take as a grand compliment. I just like telling stories.
Writers I Admire
Random short list of writers whose writing at one time or another made me pause and think to myself, “I wish I could write like that!” : Walter Mosley, Kate Chopin, Colson Whitehead, Zora Neal Hurston, Junot Diaz, Michael Chabon, Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, Phillip Roth, George Pelecanos, Charles Chestnutt, Chaucer, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Furman Bisher. Comps to my current novel manuscript include Yaa Gyasi’s “Homegoing,” Margaret Sexton’s “A Kind of Freedom” and Honorée Fanonne Jeffers’ “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois.”
Professionally I have been involved in some form of website development management, digital program management, content strategy, or digital marketing/advertising for about twenty five years.
I back-doored into digital first at a start-up that wanted to be the Associated Press of online news photography. Then I worked as a copywriter with one of the early “interactive” agencies. At the height of the dot-com era, we were cranking out banner advertising, “landing pages” and full websites almost around the clock. I even got to create a brand name. With what seemed like an endless supply of venture capital funding, eager clients, and microbrewed beer, we spent most of our days just sitting around coming up with ideas to promote things like credit cards, annuities, and home equity loans and seeing them come to fruition in a few days’ time. It was the most fun I ever had doing something I got paid for, but around 2001, the clock struck midnight. I went on to learn about actual web technology and managing web projects and products at IT firms, an investment funds company, and the marketing services arm of a well-known seniors advocacy organization. Currently, I am leading web strategy at a research firm.
Musings, writing-related updates, this and that:
- The Santa Fe Writers Project 2022 Literary Awards Short List
- Make it Swang: Lessons from My High School Band Director via Olivia Newton John
- Celebrating Miles Davis’ 96th
- 2022 WWPH Winners Announced
- WWPH Writes Up and Running
Yes, I’m on Tweeter…
Robert J. WilliamsFollow
Digital program management | DC | Fiction writer | short story collection Strivers published 11/16 | @NorthwesternU & @ugagrady alum