Columbia native Jason Odell Williams is making it big these days.
His promising and oh-so-relevant first novel, Personal Statement, published by In This Together Media, hits the book stores today. Called “mordantly hilarious” by a Vanity Fair editor, the young adult novel satirizes the absurdity of the college admissions process—particularly for those striving to get into an Ivy League school.
It’s told through the lens of three rising high school seniors and a young female political staffer. The plot thickens when a hurricane threatening the Connecticut coast presents the seemingly perfect ‘volunteer opportunity’ for padding the requisite personal statements that are part of the college admissions packet. Even though the book is just coming out today, it’s already been optioned for a movie.
But that’s not all. The budding novelist is also a television writer and producer who recently got word that The National Geographic television show Brain Games for which he’s a writer-producer has been nominated for an Emmy in the category Outstanding Informational Series. Lastly—well, probably not, actually—several of the plays he’s written have made a splash on stages across the U.S. and Canada.
Williams has a pretty impressive bio for someone not yet 40. He’s 38. Sure, the guy’s got natural talent and a killer work ethic. But the secret to his success is something ridiculously simple and counter-intuitive. It will leave parents weary of kids’ overexposure to media scratching their heads. His muse? Television watching as a kid. Lots of it. “Our family’s big thing was watching TV,” Williams acknowledged.
He even credits all that TV he absorbed with the work ethic he maintains to this day. “I’d do my homework really fast so I could watch 8:00pm TV,” he said. From The Mary Tyler Moore Show to Taxi to The Simpsons, Williams soaked up the humor inherent in the conversational banter at the forefront of popular sitcoms of the seventies and eighties. That may explain why, today, his favorite aspect of the creative process—whether he’s writing a play, a novel, or a TV script—centers around creating dialogue between characters.
Recently I spoke to Williams about where he finds creative inspiration, what his dream project would be, and more.
In addition to sitcom humor, where do you find creative inspiration?
My inspiration comes from all over. I could be reading a book, a play, or the newspaper. Sometimes it’s from my own experience.
Can you give me an example of a when you turned a personal experience into a creative endeavor?
Where I grew up in Columbia was really diverse. Ever other household was a difference race and ethnicity. My neighbor used to joke that a Mormon, a Catholic, and a Jewish guy were going down in his basement to play. It was the same at McDonogh, where I went to school from the fourth grade on. We called it the UN. You had to learn about different kind of people. I have friends from all sorts of different places. I grew up and wrote a play about race and racial issues, Baltimore in Black and White.