- Younger Than That Now: A Shared Passage from the Sixties (2001) with author Jeff Durstewitz
by Cambrie Johnston (SHS)
Writer Ruth Williams was born in Houston, Texas, on November 17, 1951. She graduated from Yazoo City High School in Mississippi in 1969. Ruth attended Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Virginia, where she was a National Merit Scholar. In 1972, she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
Her book Younger Than That Now: A Shared Passage from the Sixties, which she co-wrote with Jeff Durstewitz, received rave reviews from People magazine, which called it “a small masterpiece.” Williams’s friend Willie Morris, a well-known Mississippi writer, said about her book, “Younger Than That Now is the most honest, compelling book I’ve ever read about the 1960’s generation and its coming to maturity. Fresh, moving, funny, and incisive, it encompasses many very American things: the differences and mutualities in the North and South, ambitions, defeats, and loves, and the passing of time itself across a broad national landscape.”
The book received the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Nonfiction Award for 2000 and the Mississippi Library Association’s Nonfiction Award for 2003. In addition, Williams was recently named as the Mississippi Library Association’s Nonfiction Writer of the Year Award for 2003
Both Williams and co-author Jeff Durstewitz were featured guests on C-Span’s “Book TV” in 2000. Williams was the speaker at Tifton, Georgia’s “Reading Capital of the World” in October of the same year. She has made many speaking appearances and presented a three-part seminar at Abraham Baldwin Community College on “Writing, Writers and Small Towns” as well.
A featured columnist for the Jackson Free Press, Ruth Williams has written about learning to read, the meaning and impact of change, and much more.
Ruth Williams now lives in Flora, Mississippi, with her husband and her animals. The Williamses own and operate an advertising agency, Williams & Williams, which represents major national clients in medical products research and manufacturing, behavioral health care, general medicine, publishing and the law.
A Review of Younger Than That Now
by Cambrie Johnston (SHS)
Younger Than That Now by Ruth Williams and Jeff Durstewitz is an intriguing tale about a lifetime friendship between two very different people which survives love, heartbreak, and many other obstacles. This captivating story begins when two teenagers from different parts of the country exchange letters. The authors were editors of their high school newspapers in Merrick, Long Island, and Yazoo City, Mississippi. Jeff Durstewitz, a tough experienced teenage New Yorker and his friends write a letter to Ruth Tuttle, the editor of a school newspaper in Yazoo, Mississippi. The letter, which mocks Mississippi and Southerners in general, both interests and angers the innocent Ruth and provokes her to write back.
As the two continue to exchange letters with one another, a love interest seems to emerge. However, when the two finally meet after Jeff and some friends visit Mississippi, Jeff and Ruth realize that they are not physically attracted to each other. They do become fast friends and remain friends to this day. Through the many problems life throws at them, such as divorce, money troubles, and the death of a friend, they continue their friendship.
I enjoyed this book very much because I felt like I could relate to it since I am also a teenager living in Mississippi. There are some references to sex but nothing offensive. It’s a great coming of age type of book which I would recommend to anybody but especially to young people my age and people who want to understand and learn about the 60’s in Mississippi.
by Cambrie Johnston (SHS)
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
I taught myself to type when I was 7 years old that was in the days when “typing” meant a manual typewriter, and if you made a mistake you had paint over it with white paint, or start over. Anyway, as soon as I could type, I started writing. It just always seemed a satisfying and direct way to express myself. “Wanting to be a writer” was a lifelong ambition, but it wasn’t until I began Younger Than That Now that I felt qualified to begin identifying myself to others as a writer. Willie Morris was the first person to call me a writer, and he was a great inspiration.
How difficult was it for you to get your first book published?
Very difficult. Jeff and I spent three years writing the book, then another year trying to get an agent. We actually wrote a 50-page book proposal to send with our query letters to agents because they won’t accept a full manuscript. In the end, our proposal was pulled out of a stack of hundreds by a bored assistant, who read it and recommended it to his boss, who ultimately became our agent. Another year of re-writes and rejections from publishers went by until finally the book was sold to Bantam. So it took 3 years to write and 2 years to sell.
Who is your favorite author?
Margaret Atwood, the great Canadian writer
What author has influenced you the most?
Why did you decide to write about your experience with Jeff as the subject of your book Younger Than That Now?
Our experiences together were so powerful and so magical that they had always captivated my imagination. Plus, our relationship was largely one of writing to each other and for each other, so it seemed a natural thing to finally write a book about our shared experiences.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Are you currently working on a new book? What is it called? When will it be published? What is it about?
I have just completed a novel, called White Girl. My agent plans to submit it for publication in January. It is about a lovely girl, beloved of her parents, who grows up in a small Mississippi town called Birdsong from 1959-1973. The problem with her family is that her father is the head of the KKK in Birdsong County and her best friend is an old black woman, who is also known as a Voodoo witch, and whose family was massacred by the white girl’s father and grandfather in 1929. She teaches the child how to gather herbs and brew potions, while her shallow mother is teaching her how to lure a rich husband. The resulting stresses on this very kind and loving child are the core of the book. It is underpinned with the actual historical occurrences of those years and particularly focuses on the Mississippi Summer Project now known as Freedom Summer.
How has Mississippi or living in Mississippi influenced your writing?
It is at the root of everything, inescapable, alluring and devastating.
Besides writing what else do you like to do?
Read, travel, train animals
Do you have any advice for students today?
Read, read, read. No matter what your passion is you can find out more about it by reading. And once you know your passion, never give up. Anything you do with passion, for a number of years, will become a triumph. There is no way to avoid it.
Do you and Jeff still speak?
Everyday via e-mail. Weekly by phone. He and Teri and Randy and I take trips together.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you do instead?
I can’t imagine. I spent so many years making a living by other means that I know the price you pay for NOT doing what you love. Never again.
- Williams, Ruth. Younger Than That Now-A Shared Passage from the Sixties. Bantam Books. New York. 2000.
- Williams, Ruth. E-mail interview. 14 December 2003.