The Tony and Emmy-nominated actor, producer and playwright spoke to Department of Visual and Performing Arts students on Saturday before their performance of his play “The Dance on Widow’s Row.”
He gave hilarious anecdotes about his experiences being raised in the South, being in the industry, and working where he draws his inspiration from. He used his strong tell-it-like-it-is attitude that he is known for to get his point across of being determined to succeed no matter the circumstances. Students also asked questions and solicited advice from the legendary writer.
“Don’t ever become discouraged because you are the first and last person who should accept your work. Don’t ever quit because you are the only one that you have in most situations,” Williams said.
Born Samuel Arthur Williams in Burgaw, N.C., in 1946, he attended Morgan State University before moving to New York City in 1973 to pursue acting. He talked about getting inspiration for characters by being around older members of his family.
“As a kid, I grew up in the country and in the church, so I would always hang around older folk. From being around them, I found that they are great storytellers and I learned that everyone has a story that they can tell,” Williams said.
As a playwright, Williams has written several plays that were produced in New York, Los Angeles and other cities, including “Home,” which received a Tony nomination as Best Broadway Play. In addition to his writing and acting credits, he served as executive producer of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Martin,” “Good News” and other television productions.
Williams said that rejection was the one thing that he learned throughout his life but was not taught in school. He also gave a word of advice to the theater students. He told them to never quit and never stop studying and getting better.
“We never discussed getting turned down and you rarely ever think about it until it is staring you in the face. You learn something every day and if you do not constantly get better, someone will come along and take your place.”
Williams also stated that dealing with young people is the one thing that brings him the most joy in his work.
“It is my calling to inspire young people and use what I have gained in this industry to give back,” Williams said.