When Williams met the crowd of students gathered at an opening assembly February 10, she told the audience that “I was sure this was a big mistake.” She continued, remembering that years ago, “I had come to Cambridge [Massachusetts] to be a playwright…and sure enough I went to an open mic thing and got a crush on this guy and decided that I would write some more songs and keep going to open mics so maybe I would see him.”
Now, after eight albums, two young-adult novels, and tours that have taken her all over the world with musicians such as Mary Chapin Carpenter, Joan Baez, and Ani DiFranco, Williams said she fell in love with telling stories, particularly with songs.
“I hoped to sell 2,000 copies of my first album,” she said of her initial foray into professional music; an album born on a couch in Northampton, Mass. and fueled by romantic heartbreak. “It sold 200,000.”
Known as a social activist, one of William’s offstage achievements has been creating a program called “Positive Proximity,” which helps towns to become prosperous and self-reliant. But drilling down to the young artists in the crowd, and their want to effect the world around them, Williams used her own story as an example and spoke to being patient and open-minded.
“For those of you who think, ‘I have this artistic impulse and I don’t know if I’m allowed to; if this is what I’m supposed to be doing.’ You don’t really know,” Williams said. “You have to put your creative stuff out into the world and see if that’s the way that the world wants to hear your stories. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t.”
This time it did, and Williams shared her work with the LA students and faculty who attended classes and workshops during her stay as a J. William Mees Visiting Scholar, and with fans from throughout the area during a free concert on Monday night.