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 joined 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-two 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. Named by Southern Living as “One of the 50 People changing the South,” the Cave Canem fellow has been published and featured in multiple journals, essay collections and news outlets, including The Iowa Review, The Massachusetts Review, CherryBombe, Garden and Gun, Essence and the New York Times.
You may have seen her on Morning Joe, or Dr. Oz, or Hardball with Chris Matthews. 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.