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SUNY Fredonia grad Helen Williams co-writes Vanessa Williams biography
Monday, May 07, 2012

Vanessa and Helen Williams book
Helen (left) and daughter, Vanessa Willians, on the cover of their new book, 'You Have No Idea."

Helen Williams, a SUNY Fredonia graduate and mother of actress Vanessa Williams, shares the spotlight in an enduring photograph on the front cover of a new biography, “You Have No Idea,” that she helped her famous daughter write.

They’re presented arm-in-arm, a reflection of the close bond that characterizes the enduring relationship that guided Vanessa through a series of challenges that arose after she was crowned the first African-American Miss America in 1983.

The book’s subtitle -– “A Famous Daughter, Her No-nonsense Mother and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other)” – underscores how much of a guiding force Helen has been in Vanessa’s life.

Not to be missed, though, are Helen’s reflections of SUNY Fredonia. Chapter 11 begins with Helen at the age of 16 as a freshman Music Education major. On the way to a music class she caught a glimpse of a senior who would later become her husband. “Milton was very handsome – he was tall, with the most beautiful smile,” Helen wrote. Mutual friends arranged for them to meet at a campus snack bar, where Milton worked.

“He asked me to the movies and I said yes.”

A photograph of Helen with her mentor and favorite music teacher at SUNY Fredonia, Dr. Richard Sheil, is also included in the book.

School and music were Helen’s “lifelines to sanity.” Most black students went on to technical schools in the 1950s and Helen never considered college, she wrote, but teachers at Buffalo’s East High School showed Helen that it could be done. Helen graduated from SUNY Fredonia in 1960, becoming the first member of her family to attend college. She taught music in Ossining, N.Y., for 38 years.

Helen is accompanying Vanessa on a publicity campaign to promote the book; they were interviewed on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “Piers Morgan” on CNN, both on April 19. SUNY Fredonia will host a book-signing for both authors on Nov. 10.

The widely anticipated book is the first by Vanessa, whose career includes starring roles on “The Right Stuff,” “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives.”

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