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Old 11-27-2004, 05:55 PM
hoosier hoosier is offline
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"I Am the Darker Brother" - new book about Emory black GLO

Novella on college experience is latest work of former child actor now teaching in Spotsylvania

Former actor Eugene Williams, now a teacher and coach at Riverbend High School, has published his fifth book, 'I Am the Darker Brother.'


Riverbend High teacher publishes book about being black at a predominantly white college

By BILL FREEHLING

Date published: 11/27/2004


AS A CHILD ACTOR, Eugene Williams Jr. played roles ranging from a comatose kid on a soap opera to a dancing grape in an underwear commercial.

Now, the 35-year-old high school teacher has a writing portfolio that's equally diverse.

Williams, who teaches ninth-grade English and coaches the junior varsity football team at Riverbend High School in Spotsylvania County, recently published his fifth book.

"I Am the Darker Brother"--named after a Langston Hughes poem--is a 70-page novella based on Williams' time in college.

Williams said he wrote the novella slowly, over the course of about a decade.

He has also written a Bible-based vocabulary book, a manual to help children read, a guide for black students at predominantly white colleges and a book of poetry called "Reflections of a Confused Middle Class Black Youth."

Williams and his father self-published the first four. Publish America put out "I Am the Darker Brother," which is being sold through the company's Web site.

Although the topics of Williams' books vary, there's a recurring theme--the experiences of middle-class black men in mostly white settings.

He finishes the spades game, two doors down from the crackhouse, just in time to attend a debutante cotillion at the Ritz. (All italicized passages are from "Reflections.")

Williams lives with his wife, Jewel, and 5-year-old daughter, Paige, in Louisa County's Mineral area.

He grew up in Miami and Maryland. He started acting when he was 4, advertising Jell-O pudding with Bill Cosby and dressing as a grape for Fruit of the Loom. He also did a soap opera, "Search for Tomorrow," and movies.

He attended private schools throughout his childhood. He was one of five black students to graduate in a class of 100 at his Miami private high school.

He went to Emory University, and graduated in 1991.

"I Am the Darker Brother" is based on Williams' experience at Emory and his historically black fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha.

Williams writes about his fraternity getting invited to social functions just because they can dance. He mentions subtle racism coming from white classmates.

What freedom(s) have I really gained? Sure, going to the same bathroom and sitting next to 'em in school is nicebut I still can't get a loan, I can't court their daughters, and when I move in, they all move out!

But the book also includes what some might term reverse discrimination.

A white fraternity brother isn't allowed to become chapter president because he's not black. Williams' character dates a mixed-race student accused of not being "black enough."

"That's black America's biggest problem," Williams said from his Riverbend classroom. "We keep trying to litmus-test each other's blackness."

That theme comes up in "Reflections."

In a poem titled "Am I Any Less Black?" Williams writes about a person who didn't grow up in the inner city, has never seen a jail cell and dyed his hair blond.

I'm an all-city athlete whose SAT scores exceed my high school scoring totals. Am I any less black? I prefer Sinatra over Luther. Am I any less black?

Williams' writing seems angry at times. But Williams himself is far from embittered.

He's quick with a laugh and smile, and calmly discusses race relations. He said the perspectives in the books draw from black friends he's made who have had a harder time adjusting.

Williams said he wouldn't trade his experiences, and gained confidence that he could thrive in any setting.

His books don't target a specific audience. Williams said they apply to anyone--black or white, male or female.

"Most experiences are human experiences," he said.

This is Williams' first year in Spotsylvania County, but he's been teaching for a decade.

He said he discusses race relations with his students when it applies--when his students read "To Kill a Mockingbird," for example.

So far he hasn't assigned his own writing, saying that's too vain. But he said his students are blown away that he's published something.

Williams plans to keep writing. His next project may be science-fiction, perhaps showing a black man's success 15 years in the future.

He plans to keep writing about race. He says he's been getting numerous e-mails about the novella. A reader posted a positive review on the Publish America Web site.

He plans to keep teaching--although he'd like to someday have fewer classes so he can concentrate on writing--and says, "I'm falling in love with the process of writing a novel."

To reach BILL FREEHLING: 540/374-5424 bfreehling@freelancestar.com
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