James A. Williams '77

By Catherine Kane ’26 / Photo by David J. Turner

In late 2020, former Board of Trustees member Michael Huber ’90 and his wife, Lauren Seikaly, who provided crucial funding for the Theater and Dance Building construction, came to the college with a proposal. The college’s black box theater was dedicated in their name, but they wanted to rename it in celebration of a member of the Macalester community who exemplifies excellence in the arts and the college’s commitment to its vision.

James A. Williams '77With input from the Theater and Dance Department, James A. Williams ’77 was selected as the honoree. Since beginning his theater journey at Macalester, the actor has become a “force in the Twin Cities theater scene,’’ in the words of President Rivera. At a dedication ceremony in September, Williams, his friends and family, theater faculty, and members of the Twin Cities theater community gathered in the black box theater for a ceremony honoring Williams’ time at Macalester, continued influence in theater, and his commitment to Macalester’s values of community service and social justice. He also was awarded an honorary degree by Rivera and Provost Lisa Anderson-Levy.

Williams, a St. Louis native, said “when I first heard the name Macalester College I was seventeen with extremely limited options and no sense of direction.”

He was introduced to theater when a classmate knocked on his Dupre dorm room door and asked him to be in a play he was directing. Williams also took Professor Glen Wilson’s Voice and Diction class in the Theater and Dance Department, which he said was instrumental in developing his passion for theater.

Since his time at Macalester, Williams has had an extensive career as a stage actor in shows in the Twin Cities and on Broadway. He was a McKnight Theater Fellow, nominee for a NAACP Image Award, and named Artist of the Year by the Star Tribune twice. However, it was his time spent bringing theater to underserved youth that he spoke about most at the dedication ceremony.

“I was connected to a passion that has taken me to villages in rural Tanzania, maximum security facilities in Oak Park Heights, Minnesota, orphanages in Kenya, and inner-city schools in classrooms that are less than two miles from here,” Williams said of his experiences.

James A. Williams '77Though his Macalester education served as a launching pad, Williams said he will always remember his roots: “I come from the constant pinging Black Box Theater Named for James A. Williams ’77 noise of an oscillating fan lying on the floor in a house in St. Louis when it’s too damn hot outside.”

Williams also performed two original monologues at the ceremony, which he said were part of a new foray into writing. The monologues were deeply affecting memories of his upbringing in St. Louis and relationship with his father.

“When I came here, I knew most of what I needed to know about how to survive. But in the halls, the dorms, the classrooms—here I learned how to live.”

—Catherine Kane ’26

February 2 2024

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