BOWLING GREEN STATE UNIVERSITY


Prize-winning BGSU writer seeks to convey life’s ‘terrible beauty’

Longing, love and death—the trajectory of a life—are themes explored by Creative Writing faculty member Theresa Williams. She has recently been recognized for her writing with a 2006 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council.

Theresa Williams
Theresa Williams

Williams received the top prize of $10,000 in the highly competitive process. Honors are given in recognition of the “exceptional merit of a body of work that advances or exemplifies the discipline and the larger artistic community,” according to the council. The awards are designed to support artists’ growth and development and are not tied to specific projects.

The author of a novel, short stories and poetry, she has been a finalist for a Pushcart Prize for fiction, an Allen Ginsberg Poetry Prize and a Paterson Fiction Prize for her novel, The Secret Of Hurricanes, published in 2002 by MacAdam Cage. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and literary reviews.

Williams came to BGSU in 1987 as a Fellow in the Creative Writing Program, studying with Dr. Philip O'Connor, now Distinguished Research Professor of English, and Dr. Richard Messer, now a professor emeritus of English. She received her master of fine arts degree in 1989 and now teaches writing as well as courses in women’s studies, literature and composition.

“I came here because my creative writing teacher at East Carolina University, William Hallberg, had gotten his MFA here, and I loved his stories about BG,” she said.

After receiving a master’s degree in English from East Carolina, she was accepted by the writing programs at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and BGSU. “I chose BGSU after visiting the campus and meeting Mary McGowan and Howard McCord,” Williams said. “I like them both very much, plus the campus spoke to me. It seemed very quiet here, very simple, and I was intrigued by the flat landscape.

“I moved to Bowling Green with my family in the summer of 1987. At the time, we had three small children. I remember I used to promise the youngest that if he'd be very quiet while I wrote, that I would get him a big bag of candy if and when I published one of the stories I'd been working on. He did end up getting that bag of candy, but not until 1994 when one of my stories came out in The Chattahoochee Review. That story was eventually expanded and revised into my novel, The Secret Of Hurricanes.”

Williams describes the novel as “an exploration of adolescent confusion and heartache.” Her next project, a collection of short stories, deals with middle age and a dramatic life change undergone by the main character.

What began as a trip purely for pleasure last summer has become the impetus for Williams’s next large project. She and her husband and their dog traveled the length of the Ohio River on a 22-foot, 1978 sailboat.

“The Ohio River has huge mythical implications that I would like to capture,” she said. “In mythology, there are many flood myths, and these myths emphasize the dual force of water: it gives and it takes away. Water reminds us that death is necessary for change and growth.”

The final shape of the river project is still evolving, she said, but a number of poems have already come out of it. She expresses the flavor of the river experience in the following short poem:

We Proceed On

toward Gallipolis.
The world shrinks until
it fits in our boat: the husks
of mayflies
maps, thoughts.

In her poetry, Williams says, “I look for a core that reveals the terrible beauty of things, and I want to slay the reader with that beauty. When I say ‘terrible beauty,’ I mean a force like the Ohio River, which can be placid and lovely, but which can also sweep you away and tear down your house. Another way of saying this is that I am searching for a way to express an experience of the sublime, which doesn't just mean beauty but also fear and awe.”

June 19, 2006