Williams, Dennis A. 1951-

views updated

WILLIAMS, Dennis A. 1951-


Born 1951. Education: Cornell University, B.A.; University of Massachusetts at Amherst, M.F.A., 1976.


Office—Leavey Center, Fifth Floor, Georgetown University, 37 St. NW, Box 571087, Washington, DC 20057-1087; fax: 202-687-7731. E-mail—[email protected].


Novelist, journalist, and educator. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, writing teacher, 1985-92, Learning Skills Center, director, 1992-1997; Georgetown University, Washington, DC, associate dean of students and director, Center for Minority Educational Affairs (CMEA), 1997—. Newsweek, national affairs writer, education editor.


Cornell Black Alumni Association (former president).


(With Spero Pines) Them That's Not (novella), Emerson Hall (New York, NY), 1973.

(With father, John A. Williams) If I Stop I'll Die: The Comedy and Tragedy of Richard Pryor, Thunder's Mouth Press (New York, NY), 1991.

Crossover, Summit Books (New York, NY), 1992.

Somebody's Child, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1997.


Dennis A. Williams is associate dean of students and director of the Center for Minority Educational Affairs at Georgetown, University, in Washington, D.C. The center "promotes educational excellence and racial equality at Georgetown University by serving the interests of African American, Latino, Asian Pacific American, and Native American students," Williams explained on the center's Web site. Previously, Williams was a writing teacher at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he also served as director of Cornell's learning skills center.

In addition to his work in academia, Williams is also a journalist, biographer, and fiction writer. If I Stop I'll Die: The Comedy and Tragedy of Richard Pryor, written with his father, John A. Williams, recounts the soaring successes and bitter defeats in Pryor's controversial career. The authors explore Pryor's stand-up comedy and stage performances that established him "as a comic genius," noted a reviewer in Publishers Weekly. They also cover the tragic side of Pryor's life and career, including his well-publicized drug use, health problems, failed marriages, and near-fatal self-immolation resulting from a drug-use accident—an event Pryor himself would mine unselfconsciously in his comedy routines. The book is "a critical look at the life and art of one of show business's most troubled and troubling personalities," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. The authors offer a detailed examination of the truth and fiction that make Pryor "an enduring, if somewhat tragic, figure" in American entertainment, noted a reviewer in Ebony.

Crossover, Williams's first novel, tells the coming-of-age story of a young African American in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Attending school in a racially charged period of student activism, Richard "Ike" Isaac is among the first generation of blacks to attend an Ivy League college. But the local students resent him both for his intelligence, his preference for study over protest, and his white girlfriend, Cheryl. When Uhuru House, the campus center for black student activism, is firebombed, Ike is drawn unwillingly into a takeover of the college library by the Black Liberation Front. The experience fails to ignite in him any need for violent and radical reform. As the novel progresses, he searches for his father, who left when Ike was very young, and confronts his professional future. "Williams has built a complex character in Ike, one that I think will open the eyes of many white readers," commented Mark Kamine in New Leader. "With scathing realism and taut, visceral prose, Williams delineates the rites of passage to black manhood," remarked a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Kamine declared that Crossover "is never less than engrossing."

In the "sobering novel" Somebody's Child Williams explores the idea that fatherhood "is as much an enduring act of will as it is a biological fact," commented Paula Friedman in New York Times Book Review. Brothers Quincy Crawford and Elliot Davis find their world in turmoil when their father is killed in the Korean War and they face the prospect of adoption by their mother's new husband, Derek Davis. Quincy's loyalty to his dead father is so strong that he can not accept a new man in that role; he leaves the family, while Elliot stays to learn from the pragmatic, no-nonsense Davis's example. These decisions have a profound effect on Quincy and Elliot's lives as they grow up and struggle with their own issues of unexpected pregnancies, fatherhood, and turbulent family lives. Quincy becomes a high-school teacher and author while Elliot pursues a career professional basketball. When their beloved half-sister Delphine is attacked in a racially motivated incident at the height of the school busing controversy, the entire family finds itself reunited in the search for justice. Williams' "characters are vivid and hostile, making their way in a contradictory and oppressive world," observed Library Journal critic Barbara Conaty. Booklist reviewer Lillian Lewis concluded that "The tragedies and joys experienced by the Davis family are worth sharing."



Booklist, October 1, 1997, Lillian Lewis, review of Somebody's Child, p. 309.

Ebony, September, 1991, review of If I Stop I'll Die: The Comedy and Tragedy of Richard Pryor, p. 26.

Emerge, December-January, 1997, p. 81.

Essence, November, 1997, p. 66.

Library Journal, September 15, 1997, Barbara Conaty, review of Somebody's Child, p. 104.

New Leader, March 23, 1992, Mark Kamine, review of Crossover, p. 18.

New York Times Book Review, March 1, 1998, Paula Friedman, review of Somebody's Child, p. 21.

Publishers Weekly, May 31, 1991, review of If I Stop I'll Die, p. 65; January 1, 1992, review of Crossover, p. 47; August 25, 1997, review of Somebody's Child, p. 43.


Cornell University Web site,http://www.cornell.edu/ (September 21, 2004).

Georgetown University Center for Minority Educational Affairs Web site,http://www.georgetown.edu/ (September 21, 2004).

About this article

Williams, Dennis A. 1951-

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article