Don Williams
Photo by Justin Williams

Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Spring fever brings out the florid in writers hereabouts
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   05/02/2003)

The first Tuesday of each May finds me in Knoxville's Fort Sanders community teaching a writing class "for beginners and others," as it's billed. It's something I enjoy. These people write for the love of it, and the variety of experience and perspectives they bring is never dull. They range from teenagers to octogenarians and come from all walks of life.

Some are intent on penning bestsellers--maybe gritty detective novels in the tradition of Mickey Spillane ("She had more curves than an L.A. freeway.")

Some want to write immortal poetry. A few have an axe to grind, and are determined to prove some obsession--say, the existence of God or the primacy of the free market. Others just want to learn how to craft a better memo.

Some want to play, and they try their hands at a half-dozen forms. Maybe a third want to chronicle life stories or family histories for their offspring. Most want to get published. Some already are, but use the group as a sounding board for works-in-progress.

So we critique one another's efforts, try our hands at writing exercises, study examples of good word-craft. As I say, it's something I enjoy, maybe my favorite piece of this jigsaw career I've concocted.

Despite bouts of spring fever and the deadline pressures of putting out the next issue of New Millennium Writings, my literary journal, I'll be there. If enough others show, we'll form up a class.

It's never a sure bet. Spring fever interferes. We tell ourselves to apply derrieres to chairs and write something memorable, but wanderlust and the great outdoors compete for our attentions.

It's some consolation that there's no shortage of material. The world rises up each spring in a great, delirious shout of life in East Tennessee. You can write about the birds and the bees, the flowers and the trees and the moon up above and a thing called love, to quote an old song.

The problem with writing about springtime, however, is that it's almost impossible to do so without becoming florid and committing purple prose.

Don't believe me? Write 50 words about your front yard or a walk in the woods and see if it doesn't sound saccharine almost immediately. There's a good reason for that, of course. It's because springtime IS saccharine and florid. It IS like a symphony. It DOES make joyful noises. It IS spangled with flowers and scented with perfume. But try telling that to a cynic or a third-year English major.

T. S. Eliot had a bright idea. The famous bard knew the only safe way to write about something so sweet as springtime is to take a contrary view. He knew to steep the season in angst and spiritual malaise, as he did in his landmark poem, "The Wasteland." In a local column last month, I mentioned how it's become a clich to quote Eliot's famous dictum, "April is the cruelest month..." and then debunk it by pointing out how beautiful April is. I went on to suggest that Eliot's April--whether inspired by his native St. Louis or his English home of many years--more likely resembled our March or late February.

A couple of readers emailed to protest I had missed the point, that the very beauty and vigor of April are what make it so cruel. The stirring of new life rouses us from the safety of our dens, forcing us to confront the necessity of rebirth.

It's a point well taken. Still, Eliot could not have written his epic here. Not about April, anyway. It's way past the time of "dead land" and "dull roots." And to say "February or March is the cruelest month," just doesn't have the same ring. No, April here is no wasteland. It's a wonderland. Its lushness trumps despair.

But there I go again. Springtime brings out the silliness in me. At the risk of sounding florid, let me show you one of the four or five most awesome sights--in the original sense of that phrase--that I've ever seen.

About two weeks ago, I stood on my front porch and watched a pregnant yellow moon, swaddled in mist, rise into indigo skies. The brook running through my front yard sang of secret yearnings, serenading scenery already picture-perfect, magical in truth, and then.... And then a great blue heron rose in misty silhouette between my creek and the moon, as if a primitive world had come to life in some mystic time.

In truth, it had. The mystic world of East Tennessee in springtime.