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Thursday, April 14, 2011

The House of Words (no. 18): Philip Lee Williams & the university press

Philip Lee Williams, continued

But how can one do that and still publish? The answer for me was to hook up with a small but aggressive academic press that was interested in highly literary works. That press is Mercer University Press in Georgia, which is fairly young and eagerly trying to make a name for itself as a literary press. Here, I will be publishing the high-art literary books I've been writing for years but haven't really been able to publish in New York. For instance, last fall, Mercer published my 450-page epic poem The Flower Seeker, based on the life and writings of 18th century naturalist and artist William Bartram. This fall, Mercer will be publishing my 1,000-page novel The Divine Comics: A Vaudeville Show in Three Acts. It's a prose re-imagining of Dante's Divinia Commedia, and a book I've been working on for some 28 years. Others along the same lines will follow--finished manuscripts I've written over the years with a hope that some day I would find a press willing to go with me.

Mercer is aware that my promotions will be virtual rather than personal, and they are fine with it. Of course, this approach may not help sales, but with these kinds of books, it probably won't hurt them much, either.

So for me, it's the best of both worlds: publishing more experimental manuscripts (all of them wildly imagined black comedies, by the way) while not having the stress of the road and motels and the preparation of speeches.

Is my letting go of the public life absolute and eternal? Probably not. If Oprah called, I'd go. But the public figure I have been for decades is gone. I hope and trust that I will still be kind to those who drop me a note (my email address is on my website), and I intend to keep being a writer until the end. But this is where I have been headed forever, it seems. I like to think that with 15 published books in more than 30 different editions and many translations, I've earned it, at least in part. But even if I haven't, it's a happy sea-change for me.


  1. Good luck getting people behind this one. Though you make some VERY fascinating points, you’re going to have to do more than bring up a few things that may be different than what we’ve already heard. What are trying to say here? What do you want us to think? It seems like you can’t really get behind a unique thought. Anyway, that's just my opinion.

  2. Osterreich,

    Thanks for leaving a comment. It certainly helped me think about what I am doing.

    The two posts with comments from Phil are not "trying to make a unique point" but part of looking at different facets of a crystal--that is, different ways writers are dealing with changes in publishing--how they react to them, what they report back as their problems and issues and ways of dealing with change.

    It's more like a crystal with many facets than it is like a hard argument. The next post will deal with a bookstore owner and writer who publishes with small presses, a man who looks at issues from two angles--a very different position.

    There are plenty of arguments along the way, but I think you are asking for something that is not going to be in every conversation from every writer. Some, yes. Some, no.

    If you don't find it curious and interesting that a writer successful in worldly terms would turn his back on much that gave him success, that's fine. This series will have many different voices and points of view. There are times when I or another writer will make a case; there are times when I simply present one person's musings. This is a blog of short posts, not an argumentative essay with a thesis and hard-hitting points to make.

    Therefore I don't want to tell you what I "want us to think," but simply allow you to think for yourself. I'm not so crazy about telling people what to think, anyway! Sometimes I share what I think; sometimes I don't. When I invite a writer to weigh in on a topic, I don't feel that I ought to tell people what to think about that writer's words--that's a bit presumptuous, and I like to hear different opinions about what those words mean. Again, it's a blog, not an essay.

  3. Sounds to me like a vitual approach may be better in this instance than actually going out to meet people. One advantage of the internet over the world outside is the facility it has for getting together like-minded people who are geographically distant. Good luck, Philip Lee Williams, you sound like you write books well worth reading!

  4. Clare, a compliment from one novelist to another is always special!

    Somebody reminded me of Jenny Dorset the other day, and I think that you would like it very much--his eighth book, I believe, The True and Authentic History of Jenny Dorset, the twined saga of the Dorsets and the Smythes, a wonderfully passionate and madcap brew.

  5. Sounds good, Marly - I'll add it to my wishlist!

  6. Actually, gone ahead and bought it! May arrive before you do, Marly!

  7. Clare,

    When my kids all leave home, will I get to read as much as you do? Very admirable!


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.