Monuments: Places, Events, History, and Future
Award-winning poet, scholar, activist, and teacher Caroline Randall Williams – known for her powerful New York Times piece You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument – explores how historical events shape the places we live, impacting not only the past but our present and future. Through her own activism, performance art, and writing, Caroline explores the intersections of culture and society, past and place, sharing insights in this compelling talk for audiences of all kinds.
The Body Is the Text: One Woman’s American Narrative
When Caroline Randall Williams wrote that her body was a monument, that was only the beginning of the thought. The body does so much work past the work. So much telling past the shape of the thing. From what we feed ourselves, to how we tell the truth of where our bodies have been, what they’ve done, so much can be read on the body, of the body’s story. This talk will explore Professor William’s unique take on American identity through this fresh, embodied lens.
Soul Food and Collective Cultural Memory
As award-winning cookbook author, scholar, and amateur restaurateur Caroline Randall Williams shared on the Vox Conversations podcast, “Food is in everything for us. It’s in our history. It’s in how we sit. It’s in how we gather. It’s in how we write, what we wanna write, our political concerns, our creative obsessions. Food tells stories, and food is about survival and Black joy, for me. And so is everything else I do.” Caroline and her work are featured in the new Disney+ docuseries Hungry for Answers, produced by Viola Davis, in which she uncovers the fascinating, essential, and often untold Black stories behind some of America’s classic and emblematic food and spirits – she shares these stories and her profound insights in this memorable talk.
As a Southern activist, author and poet, Caroline Randall Williams both celebrates and holds accountable the sentimental legacies of the South. A soul food cookbook author and ambassador, Williams writes lyrically about the South's charms and pride of her community. At the same time, she calls for a modern re-imagining of inclusivity, anti-racism and a reckoning of its racist past. With the hope and fresh insights of a millennial generation, Williams helps us re-imagine inclusivity and how to get there.
Inspiration: Making a Life in the Arts
Award-winning poet, performance artist, and scholar Caroline Randall Williams creates work across genres exploring the places where art, society, and history meet. In numerous successful collaborations, Caroline has explored the intersections of food and literature, poetry and ballet, and in this compelling talk she shares profound insights about creating your own path, building a foundation for your voice, and sharing your message.
What Poor Children in the Mississippi Delta Know That You Don’t Know
Caroline Randall Williams has taught in two of the poorest states in the union - Mississippi and West Virginia - and she has been educated at two of the richest universities on the globe - Harvard and Oxford. After graduating from Harvard University, Caroline moved to Mississippi where she taught public school on a dirt road in Sunflower County for two years. In Mississippi, Caroline lived in an America many Americans are hardly aware of any longer, an America as rich in culture as it is wretched in poverty, towns still split into white and black by train tracks and bridges. In this talk, Caroline Randall Williams shares the lessons she learned from her students that corporations and privileged communities need to hear.
Caroline Randall Williams' talks pull people together, address the heart of situations, and move audiences to come out stronger and more unified on the other side
CAROLINE RANDALL WILLIAMS is known for many things but most recently for her viral piece in the New York Times, “You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument.” In it, Williams writes, “I don’t just come from the South. I come from Confederates…. My great-grandfather Will was raised with the knowledge that Edmund Pettus was his father. Pettus, the storied Confederate general, the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, the man for whom Selma’s Bloody Sunday Bridge is named.” A faculty member at Vanderbilt University, William continues to work and speak to the places where art, business, and scholarship intersect. Caroline is an award-winning author of three books, The Diary of B.B. Bright, Possible Princess (co-authored with Alice Randall), Soul Food Love, and Lucy Negro Redux. Constantly pushing the envelope with her poetry, cooking, and writing. In a sentence, she pulls us into the clarifying history of a people, “I am the descendant of black women who were domestic servants and white men who raped their help.” Praised by New York Times, celebrities like Viola Davis, and publications like Southern Living, which recognized Caroline as “One of the 50 People changing the South,” Williams closes her opinion piece in the Times with, “I defy any sentimental Southerner to defend our ancestors to me. I am quite literally made of the reasons to strip them of their laurels.” And she’s right.
With speech topics on Culture, Identity, and Genetic Inheritances; on Inclusivity and Diversity, and on a rich history of the South that the world can learn from, Caroline's talks pull people together, address the heart of situations, and move audiences to come out stronger and more unified on the other side. Groups rave, “After you hear Caroline your life will never be the same! And if it is the same... you weren’t listening!!!” (Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission) "Want a new and inspiring take on diversity? Invite Caroline Randall Williams." (The Sycamore Institute) "Caroline Randall Williams is a bold voice, a keen thinker, unbowed by convention. … She does this work with a joy and serious of purpose that has made her a trusted and beloved collaborator for the Southern Foodways Alliance." (Southern Foodways Alliance)
Born and raised in Nashville Tennessee, Harvard graduate Caroline Randall Williams is an award-winning poet, young adult novelist, and cookbook author as well as an activist, public intellectual, performance artist, and scholar. She joins the faculty of Vanderbilt University in the Fall of 2019 as a Writer-in-Residence in Medicine, Health, and Society while she continues to work and speak to the places where art, business, and scholarship intersect, moving people closer to their best lives and corporations closer to their ideal identities.
She has spoken in twenty states: Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Washington and West Virginia, in venues that range from as small as a classroom in a neighborhood school to as large as the Superdome mainstage during Essence Fest. To every speaking engagement Caroline brings a fierce intelligence, disarming charm, a touch of glamour, and a depth of lived experience that belies her thirty-one years. She has taught in two of the poorest states in the union -- Mississippi and West Virginia -- and she has been educated at two of the richest universities on the globe -- Harvard and Oxford. She is an accomplished artist on the page and on the stage, and she is a successful entrepreneur with an exceptionally diverse investment portfolio that includes ownership stake in a nationally acclaimed restaurant and Facebook stock purchased so early it is still profitable.
You may have seen her on Morning Joe, or Dr. Oz, or The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell. More likely you’ve read her. Caroline’s first book, The Diary of B.B. Bright, Possible Princess (co-authored with Alice Randall) won the Harlem Book Fair’s Phillis Wheatley Prize and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award. Her second co-authored volume, Soul Food Love won the NAACP Image Award and got her invited to speak at The Smithsonian. In 2017 the New York Times published an op-ed she wrote and it went viral. Her book of poetry, Lucy Negro Redux, earned rave reviews and got optioned to become a ballet. In 2019 the ballet debuted to more rave reviews with the New York Times review concluding that Lucy Negro Redux was “something wildly original, something so unlike anything else that all description falls short of its otherworldly reality. A place where, when the curtain drops, the very city cries out: “Brava! Brava! Oh, brava!” Another reviewer wrote, “All this is to say that Attitude: Lucy Negro Redux is not just original, but revolutionary — marking a seismic shift in the art form not just in Nashville, but in dance the world-over.” No wonder she was chosen in 2015 by Southern Living as one of “50 People Changing the South” for her work around food justice, and in 2016 as a national Neiman Marcus “Face of Beauty” because she personifies “beauty, brains, and passion.”
After graduating from Harvard University, where her undergraduate thesis received Magna Cum Laude honors, Caroline moved to Mississippi where she taught public school on a dirt road in Sunflower County for two years. In Mississippi, Caroline lived in an America many Americans are hardly aware of any longer, an America as rich in culture as it is wretched in poverty, towns still split into white and black by train tracks and bridges. During her second year, she taught 9th grade English to 86 kids who didn’t have a book to take home. She got that job by tutoring eight kids who the state of Mississippi said couldn’t pass the English exit exam—eight for eight, her kids passed.
Caroline is a catalyst. She makes change possible by bringing art and joy into the room in such a way that the grit of real challenge and limits may become eclipsed by analysis, innovation, and skill.