Philip Lee Williams

Lifelong Georgian Philip Lee Williams is a modern man of letters - published novelist, poet and essayist, as well as a composer, a documentary filmmaker and a science writer to boot.

A native of the northeast Georgia town of Athens who grew up in Madison in neighboring Morgan County, Williams began his literary career publishing poetry in little magazines while he was an undergraduate at the University of Georgia. He has since published poetry in more than fifty magazines, yet he is best known for his novels, which make up two thirds of his fifteen books, all set in his native south and, more often than not, centered on Georgia characters and settings.

The Heart of a Distant Forest (1984), The Song of Daniel (1989), All the Western Stars (1988) are literary excursions into the lives of various characters in contemporary Georgia, Slow Dance in Autumn is a detective story set in a noirish late-twentieth century Atlanta, while A Distant Flame (2004) and The Campfire Boys (2009) are imaginative works of rich historical detail, setting Georgia soldiers against the backdrop of the Civil War campaigns.

Williams' nonfiction draws equally heavily upon his lifetime in Georgia. The Silent Stars Go By (1998) is Williams' memoir of Christmas in the 1950s in rural Morgan County, and Crossing Wildcat Ridge: A Memoir of Nature and Healing (1999) interlaces essays about his 1994 heart surgery with meditations inspired by the natural surroundings of home on a forest ridge above Wildcat Creek in rural Oconee County.

Williams published his thirteenth novel, Far Beyond the Gates, in 2020, on the heels of an autobiography, It is Written: My Life in Letters (2014), and his latest volume of poems, The Color of All Things: 99 Love Poems, published in 2015.

Williams began his creative career as a poet and began publishing in small magazines while he was still an undergraduate. He has published poetry in more than 40 magazines such as PoetryKaramuCumberland Poetry Review, and Kentucky Poetry Review. A collection of Williams' poetry called Elegies for the Water appeared in 2009, and his upcoming book, The Flower Seeker, is an epic poem about the 18th century naturalist William Bartram, scheduled for publication in the fall of 2010.

At the same time in his teens that he began writing poetry, Williams began transforming his lyrical thoughts into music. He has composed a number of symphonies, chamber works, concerti, and much incidental and church music, only a small amount of which he has allowed to be performed in public. A documentary film writer and co-producer as well, Williams' documentary work include an archeological feature about Mississippian Georgia, Oconee: Valley of the Chiefs (1987), and Eugene Odum: An Ecologist's Life (1996), about the pioneering University of Georgia scientist.

One of three children, Williams moved from Athens with his family from to Madison in 1953. After he graduated from Morgan County High School in 1968 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Georgia in 1972, he co founded and edited the poetry journal Ataraxia and spent the next 13 years as an award-winning journalist in Georgia for the Clayton Tribune, the Athens Daily News, the Madisonian, and the Athens Observer. In 1985 he became a science writer for the University of Georgia, where he went on to win numerous writing awards, eventually becoming an adjunct professor of creative writing as well as an assistant dean of University public information.

Honored abroad and at home, Williams' books have been translated into Swedish, Japanese, German, and French, and he has been honored on multiple occasions with Georgia's highest literary awards for fiction and nonfiction.

His first novel, The Heart of a Distant Forest, won the Townsend Prize in 1991, and he has twice won a Georgia Writers Association's Georgia Author of the Year Award: For his 1989 novel The Song of Daniel and his 2005 collection of nature essays, In the Morning: Reflections Toward First Light.

In 2007 the Georgia Humanities Council presented Williams with its Georgia Governor's Award in the Humanities. The Georgia Center for the Book has twice named Williams' books to its "Top 25" lists of "Books All Georgians Should Read": A Distant Flame in 2005, and In the Morning in 2008. His work appears in two of the University of Georgia Press's recent collections of Georgia's finest writers, Georgia Voices: Non-Fiction (1994), and Georgia Voices: Poetry (2000).

In 2009 Williams published the poetry collection Elegies for the Water, and in 2010 Williams received his third Georgia Author of the Year Award for The Flower Seeker: An Epic Poem of William Bartram, based upon the life of the 18th-century naturalist. In 2011 he published The Divine Comics: A Vaudeville Show in Three Acts, a fanciful, contemporary novel that reimagines and updates Dante's Divine Comedy.



The following titles by Philip Lee Williams may be found in the Hall of Fame Library:

The Heart of a Distant Forest. New York: Norton, 1984.

The Heart of a Distant Forest. New York: Ballantine, 1985

The Heart of a Distant Forest. Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, 1991.

The Heart of a Distant Forest. Athens, GA: Univ.of Georgia Press, 2005.

All the Western Stars. Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, 1988.

All the Western Stars (Uncorrected Proof). Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, 1988.

All the Western Stars. New York: Ballantine, 1989.

Slow Dance in Autumn. Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, 1988.

Slow Dance in Autumn. New York: Dell, 1990.

The Song of Daniel. Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, 1989.

The Song of Daniel. New York: Ballantine, 1992.

Perfect Timing. Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, 1991.

Perfect Timing. New York: Penguin, 1992.

Final Heat. New York: Turtle Bay Books, 1992.

Blue Crystal. New York: Grove, 1993.

A Gift From Boonie, Seymour and Dog. Athens, GA: Maypop, 1994.

The True and Authentic History of Jenny Dorse. Marietta, GA: Longstreet Press, 1997.

The True and Authentic History of Jenny Dorse. Athens, GA: Univ. of Georgia Press, 2001.

The Silent Stars Go By. Athens, GA: Hill Street Press, 1998.

Crossing Wildcat Ridge. Athens, GA: Univ. of Georgia Press, 1999.

A Distant Flame. New York: Thomas Dunne, 2004.

A Distant Flame. New York: St. Martin's, 2005.

In the Morning: Reflections from First Light. Macon, GA: Mercer Univ. Press, 2006.

The Campfire Boys. Macon, GA: Mercer Univ. Press, 2009.

Elegies for the Water: Poems. Macon, GA: Mercer Univ. Press, 2009.

The Flower Seeker: An Epic Poem of William Bartram. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2010.

The Divine Comics: A Vaudeville Show in Three Acts. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2011.


Emerson's Brother: A Novel. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2012.

It is Written: My Life in Letters. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2014.

The Color of All Things: 99 Poems. Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 2015.

Far Beyond the Gates. Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 2020.

Manuscript Holdings

Philip Lee Williams' papers are located in the University of Georgia's Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library.