Dr. Williamson, a privilege to have the opportunity to chat with you. And there is a lot for us to talk about. When I look at your bio, I think you were born too soon (or have been reincarnated)…it seems your spirit and accomplishments belong to the gilded Harlem Renaissance…the (re)birth of intellectual discourse, gracious manners associated with gentlemen and their finely garbed ladies who were quick tongued and socially witty, intellectuals discussing the social plights of the day in muted-toned parlor rooms in elegant brownstones on Striver’s Row, speakeasies and gin mills, jazz, literature, art, after hour juke joints, civil discourse unless you were on the “other side” of the law, and building a financial dynasty by any means. Am I that much off base??? Anyway…
Let me get this chat back to the present. What is your typical day or week like? And how do you manage all of your personal interests while being a scholar and teaching faculty member? After looking at your bio, some of my much younger colleagues would ask, “Do you have a life?” I rather ask, “Where do you find the time?”
Ernest Williamson III:
Mr. Berry, I greatly appreciate your compliments. What I have managed to accomplish thus far in my life is a result of a dire need to express and disperse varied realities of human endeavor. As an artist, I am frequently compelled to upend what is easily assumed for sake of holding on to what is probably true. Life is ephemeral, mysterious, and adventurous, so I create in a manner that is reminiscent of a Renaissance sensibility out of need to evince what is dynamic, obscure, and aesthetical.
Since I am a Capricorn, work is play for me. I love to engage in activity of all sorts. My typical day begins with a nice cup of green tea and ends with the creation of a poem, essay, or work of art. Aside from teaching an array of composition and literature courses, I enjoy watching the news and reading about various beneficial foods and herbs for the body. Though I am a lover of work, I am also a lover of people. Relationships are extremely important to me and fortunately, I achieve balance between introversive and extroversive dimensions of self fairly well.
You have a life balance that many people seek and can’t attain and not for attempts to try. In fact, I just saw on one of the morning talk shows that most New Year’s resolutions have been tossed by the wayside, people have just given up. So I wonder if a self-help book is lurking in your future. Moving on… I want to ask you about, not necessarily the students you teach, but your observations on the academic skills that today’s college student brings to higher education study. Are their skills as dismal as some “experts” and local to national assessments tell us? And how does scholarly research and academic writing bring you the same joy as your creative endeavors?
Though I am no Dr. Phil, people have frequently expressed to me how my creative work has helped them through tough times and even inspired them to take up writing or painting. I turned 38 earlier this month and writing a self-help book is not something I intend to do any time soon. As for the state of the American college student, it is my contention that most students want a good education, but for some reason, most of them are not college ready. Many African American students are reading below the 10th grade level upon entering college or university, and many high school graduates, irrespective of race are reading and writing at non-proficient levels. I submit that many American students are not receiving the appropriate levels of care and rigorous instruction needed to compete in a globally competitive world because of political gridlock and governmental indifference. So many high schools are failing our students because our government is failing to work with President Obama to resolve the plenitude of problems plaguing our broken education system.
Scholarly research and academic writing, like creative endeavor, quiets the mind while stimulating it. The quest for truth and solution is universal; at some point, all humans want to know what is true and what is right; so, in a sense, to be a man of arts and science is quite natural.
Belated Happy Birth Day! Your insights on the educational system are well taken, and for awhile I thought, he should run for something…as in becoming an elected public official. OK, no self-help guru status is in your future, but I hope your creative work continues to give a pathway for people to discover and embrace their true selves. I really like what you said, “…to be a man of arts and science is quite natural.” That is one of those phrases worth “stealing;” when I do, I’ll attribute it to you. Now, you talked earlier about relationships with people, and I wondered are you single, married, children etc. Share what you are comfortable with. And before I forget, are you originally from South Carolina? And wherever your birth place is, what was your childhood like?
Currently, I am single, though I have a plethora of friends in New Jersey, New York, Los Angeles, and in Memphis. Love in all of its forms is inspirational to an artist, though as I have mentioned, my status is single. I was born in Illinois, raised in Memphis, Tennessee; earned my PhD in New Jersey, and lived in New Jersey for nine years. I do have family in South Carolina; my cousin, Bakari Sellers, is a young lawyer and notable politician; and my uncle, Dr. Cleveland Sellers, is currently president of Voorhees College in Denmark, South Carolina.
My childhood was wonderful. I was born into a nuclear middle-class family; my grandfather, the late Rev. E.W. Williamson was a notable Baptist minister in Chicago and in Memphis. He had a tremendous impact on my childhood because of his selfless generosity and love. My father, Ernest Williamson Jr., is a notable musician and record producer, and he is the best father in the world; my mother, Yolanda Williamson, a retired elementary school principal, is the best mother a child could ever have. So, my childhood was ideal and I wish I could be six or seven again! Art, music, video games, sports, movies, and literature were primary interests during my childhood.
Through generations, your family has built a legacy of example for family members to follow, and I suspect they had a major impact on the community in which they existed. And you carry on that noble tradition of service and productivity. As I reflect on your background and range of interests, I surmise that you probably like to eat and might know your way around a kitchen. Do you cook, and if so, do you have a regional cuisine that you favor? And for me to really push that envelope, can you share an original recipe that is one of your favorites? Now, if you don’t cook, what are your top three restaurants that you have visited in the past few years and where are they located?
I rarely cook, but I do have one original recipe: Strawberry Cream Cheese Chicken. First heat a pot of olive oil over medium heat; then combine mushrooms; strawberry cream cheese, red wine, oregano, black pepper, minced scallions, and ½ a stick of butter. You mix said ingredients into a semi-puree, then you simply pour it on top of the cooked skinless chicken breasts. I have many favorite restaurants including: Houston’s Restaurant; and Spain Restaurant in Newark, New Jersey.
I’ll let you know if I get feedback on your recipe! As our chat nears closure, I wonder if you follow any professional sports especially football (i.e. NFL and not soccer?) If so, do you have a prediction on the upcoming Super Bowl and why? And do you engage in any hobbies or special interests?
Yes, I follow NFL football; NCAA basketball; NBA basketball; and professional chess. The New England Patriots will probably win the Super Bowl, but I am pulling for Seattle. The Patriots organization is like Microsoft; it is a corporation that knows how to succeed consistently even while “failing.” I hope that my prediction is incorrect, but I am somewhat pessimistic about Seattle’s chances of winning back to back Super Bowls. Though I am no longer active professionally, I am a chess master and I still enjoy playing chess on my iPad weekly. Last week I drew against the Chess Pro computer engine set at a rating of 2800; previously I beat the Chess Pro computer engine set at a rating of 2700 for the first time in my life; so I am quite excited about my recent performances! Also, I am a self-taught classical pianist/composer and last year my piano composition “Struggle for Peace” was published in Georgia College& State University’s literary journal Peacock’s Feet; you can listen to it online at http://peacocksfeet.bandcamp.com/
While it should not be a blowout game, in the final analysis, I would like to see Seattle emerge with another ring. Anyway….The term “Renaissance Man” is too often over-used and is not a real descriptor for a lot of the people the term is placed on. However, in your case, you exemplify the characteristics, qualities, and nuances that term implies and it eloquently applies to you. As we end of our conversation, do you have any advice for our readers? I will get my game of “this or that” ready for you as the closing piece to our chat.
I would advise your readers to do the following: embrace your talents and fully develop them; embrace your weaknesses and then destroy them; take good care of your mind, body, and soul via meditating, eating well; and thinking deeply and unconventionally.
You articulated sound advice that is universal. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me, and bringing your words and art to aaduna. Now, it’s time for some fun. Quickly select one from each question without thinking.
Freddie Kruger or Norman Bates? Freddie Kruger
Stews or Casseroles? Casseroles
Half-full or Half-empty? Half-full
Procrastination or Indecisive? Procrastination
Hoarder or Collector? Collector
Crayons or Chalk? Chalk
Howard Stern or Lenny Bruce? Howard Stern
Straight Up or On the Rocks? On the Rocks
Run or Jog? Jog
Blind Faith or Skepticism? Skepticism
[N.B. Dr. Williamson’s answers are in red. This chat occurred prior to the Super Bowl.]
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When aaduna started, I did an interview process titled “E-Viewpoints” with contributors. The purpose was to construct a wider audience for aaduna writers and artists while providing our readership with a better understanding and glimpse of the individuals who penned the poetry, fiction, and non-fiction and created the diverse array of visual arts. For a variety of unplanned reasons, I took a hiatus from that initiative. But now, I am back with “Conversations.” The plan is to chat with current and previous contributors and delve into aspects of their background that you may find intriguing and uplifting. I hope you become a regular follower of this series of “Conversations” and continue to enjoy the work of the individual that I have a chat with. The intent is not to be “in your face” but enable you to savor the nuances, expectations, and challenges that aaduna contributors face as people, just like you and me. I think you will find “Conversations” interesting, maybe provocative, and enlightening. I hope so.