My son just forwarded this obit to me. I'm still reeling from the news. My wife and I are traveling in our motor home, now in Florida. We were planning to come up the Trace on the way back to Michigan, via Nashville and stop in Hohenwald to visit William, as we had done last year.
I'm not shocked he's gone, though. William took care of everybody but himself. I used to bring bottles of multivitamins to him & make him promise to take them. I enlisted the aid of his son, Chris, who lived with him, but William would not take them consistently & he continued to smoke heavily. He consumed copious quantities of coffee, and ,
never tired of beer, either, until recently.
He was generous to a fault. Once, he told me matter-of-factly, "Marc, I don't think I'm ever gonna have a lot of money." This, because, notwithstanding the advances he received from publishers, he gave away most of his money to his children. His ex-wife was a thorn in his side for years, but he never expressed bitterness at her claim to his writing proceeds--just frustration.
William and I first met about 13 or 14 years ago, when I tracked him down to a ramshackle trailer in Hohenwald. I had a 12-pack of beer with me, and he invited me in. He was reading a book by Larry McMurtry & we found common ground in our admiration for his writing and in our mutual favorite writer, Cormac McCarthy. William said McCarthy had encouraged him early on. William eventually read some of my writing and offered to introduce me to his agent whenever I felt I was ready. That day never came. But that's OK. I really didn't want anything from him other than his friendship. I played guitar and he was please to know that I played years ago in San Francisco with one of his favorites, John Lee Hooker. He knew an amazing amount about music and wrote a column for the "Oxford American". William was reclusive and a bit of a curmudgeon. He didn't want anything to do with e-mail, wouldn't answer the phone and once even had it disconnected for months. His editor at the American once asked me if I was planning to visit William. If I was, she said, would I please encourage him to finish his column and submit it to her? He was about to pass the deadline.
My wife and I were thrilled when his second novel, "Provinces of Night", was made into a movie, "Bloodworth", with Kris Kristofferson. I visited him the day movie was to preview in Nashville. I encouraged him to come back with me to see the preview that evening, but William said he was convinced they'd made a mess of his work and didn't care to see it.
He did eventually see the film, but as of last year at this time he said he hadn't yet been paid for the film rights. It wasn't his style to retain an attorney, nor, most likely, could he have afforded one.
William was an exceptional human being. Kind, absolutely genuine, completely devoid of pretense, brilliant, articulate and, as my wife, Patricia reminds me, possessed of a natural, intuitive insight into the complexities of human nature. He also exhibited a finely-honed sense of moral ambiguity.
It was rare privilege to have been his friend.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
The SouthComm Set
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