2017 Feature Author: William Rawlings

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If you ask William Rawlings where he lives, you will likely be told “in the Center of the Universe.” The thought comes from Lewis Thomas, the talented physician, scientist and essayist who compared a writer’s world to a universe swirling around the tip of his pen. Indeed, for an author and a physician, there are few richer sources of inspiration than that of a small, rural Southern town.

Rawlings was born, raised and still lives on the family farm in Sandersville, Georgia, where he is the son, grandson, nephew and brother to physicians who have served the area for more than a century. He was educated at Emory University in Oxford and Atlanta, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa Honorary Society. He earned his Doctorate in Medicine and a Master’s Degree in Epidemiology at Tulane University in New Orleans. Completing his postgraduate medical training in Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, he returned to Sandersville to practice medicine with his father. He has received numerous awards and accolades over the years, including the award of an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Mercer University in 2011.

 Writing is an interest that developed relatively late. “Unlike a number of other authors, I didn’t grow up with a burning desire to be a writer.” Rawlings says. “But sometimes you have a story that just needs to be told, and so I hammered out my first book. To my great surprise, it was quite successful, and now writing occupies much of my free time.”  Working first in the genre of “Southern suspense,” his first five novels were commercially successful, earning positive reviews and interest from Hollywood. More recently he has turned to writing non-fiction, for the most part Southern history, and is a frequent contributor to newspapers and magazines.

A Killing on Ring Jaw Bluff (Mercer University Press, 2014), Rawlings’s first non-fiction book, is the story of the infamous 1925 Rawlings-Tarbutton murder for which his great uncle, Charles Graves Rawlings, spent the latter part of his life in prison. “In 1920, Uncle Charlie was one of the richest men in the state,” Rawlings says. “Some five years later he was serving a life sentence for the conspiracy-murder of his first cousin. It’s a great tale, with all the elements of a Greek tragedy: greed, deception, lust, treachery and murder, not to mention actual court dialog that could have been written by Erle Stanley Gardner.”   The book has been commercially successful, going through a second hard cover printing, and released in softcover in September 2015.  In June 2014 it was named Finalist in History for the Georgia Author of the Year Awards.

Rawlings’s current book, The Second Coming of the Invisible Empire (Mercer University Press, 2016), is a definitive history of the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s.  The Klan was, for a brief moment in time, one of the most powerful social and political organizations in the United States, boasting as many as five million members.  “It’s a fascinating study in sociology,” Rawlings says, “and the Klan’s self-destructive decline was also as rapid as its rise to power.”

His forthcoming book, The Strange Journey of the Confederate Constitution, will be released by Mercer Press in late summer 2017.  It is a collection of shorter pieces on Georgia and Southern history.

Outside of his literary career, Rawlings has multiple business interests, as well as an addiction to travel, especially in Central and South America. “I think I inherited that from my grandfather, a country doctor who had a real fascination with Latin America and traveled there many times from the 1930s through the 1950s,” he said.

Rawlings is married to the former Elizabeth Dunwody of Macon. They have two daughters, one in college and the other in law school.  Now semi-retired from the practice of medicine, he divides his time between attending to his business interests, travel and writing.

As an author, Rawlings welcomes and encourages feedback (both positive and negative) from his readers. “I appreciate other opinions and always try to answer letters and emails promptly.” He enjoys giving talks and presentations to civic and book clubs, historical societies and other groups. Feel free to contact him by email (dirkrawlings@gmail.com).

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