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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On Cormac's Fire, Updike's Passing, Planets Like Dust, and Mountaintop Removal
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   02/26/2009)

Sometimes events and ideas explode to bounce around like beads from a broke necklace, so that you have to help restring them all in order to get your footing again. Herewith, beads on a string….

* The world lost a would-be shrine when the old Cormac McCarthy home burned down Jan. 27 in Knoxville. Cormac's brother Dennis and sister-in-law Judy were at my writing workshop at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church that evening. They were stoic. The house was rundown, perhaps beyond saving, long out of the family's possession. Later, Dennis read aloud the following sentence from The Road, Cormac's Pulitzer Prize winning novel.

“… He felt with his thumb in the painted wood of the mantle the pinholes from tacks that had held stockings forty years ago.”

I tried gleaning support for saving the house over the years. After all Cormac's likely been short-listed for the Nobel Prize more than once for novels such as No Country for Old Men, All the Pretty Horses, The Road, Blood Meridian, Suttree, Child of God and so on. I envisioned a shrine like the Thomas Wolfe home in Asheville, the wondrous Carl Sandburg place in Flat Rock.

Here's what I wrote about the McCarthy house in a June 1990 article in The Knoxville News-Sentinel. “Later they moved about 10 miles away to Martin Mill Pike, a sinuous drive into the leafy countryside of South Knox County. When I saw it, the white, gabled structure was choked with weeds and debris, but once it was structurally sound and dignified.

“ `Cormac ran all these forests and hills,' Annie Delisle (his former wife) said in her singing English accent as she drove past the house…. `He used to put his traps out here….' ”

An opportunity for a McCarthy shrine has passed, yet others remain. To read more visit

* John Updike was the first author interviewed for New Millennium Writings, the journal I began in 1996, and his death, also on Jan. 27, left me feeling a sad disquiet. Twice I met him, a tall, gracious presence. He was generous with his wisdom and preciously guarded time. At the Tennessee Theater for a Friends of the Library reading, the always industrious writer made corrections to his poetry as he read. Three things he said to me in those years stayed with me.

First, “When you come to the practice of your art you have to go with what thrills you. If you wrote some opposite way, you would get criticized for that. You have to please yourself.”

In response to my question, “Do you believe in God?” he said this:

“Not to believe in God seems a terrible confession of meaninglessness.” And yet, he also said…

“What will the Hubble Telescope tell us? (It's) a ridiculous large universe from which no clear message emerges….”

* Such notions first confronted me as a teenager reading science-fiction and watching Star Trek. Wednesday I read an article about a new study that concludes the cosmos is teeming with Earth-type planets, many surely awash with water and life. The article at posited the existence of up to 100 billion such planets in our Milky Way alone. A decade ago, the story would've thrilled me. Somehow, it doesn't now. The age of miracles and wonders has taken the edge off my capacity to marvel, I suspect. If so, there's a loss worth lamenting.

* Destruction of this good earth is worth lamenting even more. Mountaintops blasted away with all attendant life thereon, and waters that will never be as clean again in states throughout the Appalachians and beyond are worth decrying. Fortunately, two bills coming before the Tennessee state legislature, possibly as early as next week, would eliminate much mountaintop removal. For more information about how you can help stop such practices, visit or email

* On a national scale, “The Clean Water Protection Act would sharply reduce mountaintop removal… protect clean drinking water… and protect the quality of life for Appalachian coalfield residents…” writes Matt Wasson of

“The good news is that Representatives Frank Pallone and Dave Reichert are preparing to introduce the Clean Water Protection Act in Congress. Already, 91 of their fellow members of Congress have agreed to co-sponsor the CWPA when it is introduced. Is your representative one of those co-sponsors? Click here to find out:

“If your representative isn't on the list, please take a moment to email and ask them to support the CWPA and to take a stand,” by clicking the same link:

“You may also help move the CWPA through Congress by joining the 4th Annual End Mountaintop Removal Week in Washington, taking place March 14-19th,” writes Wasson.

As I wrote to my state Rep. Richard Montgomery, “a bulldozer, dynamite crew and dump truck is not a jobs program, it's pillage by industry insiders at the expense of everyone else.”

Please help put America on a clean energy track and fight the destruction of our world.

Thanks and God Bless.