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Williams, Paxton

Published onMar 12, 2021
Williams, Paxton

Paxton Williams, 2016

Commissioned by University Museums and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. U2017.94

PAXTON WILLIAMS (BA ’00 communications studies and political science) is well-known for his portrayal of one of the nation’s greatest agricultural scientists and one of Iowa State University’s most famous and distinguished alumni — George Washington Carver.

As an Iowa State honors student, Williams wrote a one-man play, Listening to a Still Small Voice: The Story of George Washington Carver.  The play premiered in 2000, the year he received his undergraduate degree in communication studies and political science. Since that time, Williams has presented the play in 24 U.S. states and in England.

He was inspired after learning more about Carver’s life in an honors seminar —how Carver was born into slavery, earned two degrees at Iowa State, joined Iowa State’s faculty and then went on to the Tuskegee Institute to become a renowned agricultural innovator, educator and humanitarian. Williams admired Carver for his service to others, his imagination and his dedication to creating a sustainable environment.

“Thanks in large measure to my mentors at Iowa State, who include Sande McNabb, Anne Beddingfield, Jane Cox, and Liz Beck, I’ve been fortunate to have a mini-career portraying Dr. Carver,” Williams said. “This message has been brought to numerous audiences: schools, at-risk youth, agricultural and scientific bodies, corporate entities, the incarcerated, and knights and dames.”

From 2005-2009 Williams was executive director of the non-profit Carver Birthplace Association, which encourages scientific, educational, historical and interpretive activities at the National Park Service’s George Washington Carver National Monument in Diamond, Missouri. Recognizing the power of the arts to create a more just and empathetic society, Paxton also wrote a play on the life of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar that premiered in 2014 in Chicago at The Poetry Foundation. 

Williams earned degrees from Iowa State, the University of Michigan, the University of Birmingham (UK), and the University of Chicago Law School.  While in England, he was on staff at The Drum, the UK’s largest arts center dedicated to the promotion of African, Afro-Caribbean, and Asian arts and culture.  A proponent of the law and literature movement, Paxton wrote a chapter for American Guy: Masculinity in American Law and Literature edited by Martha Nussbaum and Saul Levmore and published by Oxford University Press.

In 2008, ISU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences honored Williams as Outstanding Young Alumnus.

A native of Mississippi reared in Indiana, Paxton lives in Des Moines, where he is currently an Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Iowa Attorney General. 

Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences,  Wendy Wintersteen (2016): Countless times, through his skills as a playwright and actor, Paxton Williams has shared the story and legacy of George Washington Carver, Iowa State’s first African-American student and faculty member and one of the world’s great agricultural scientists.

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