Karen Vaughn Book Of the Month: You Have No Idea By Vanessa and Helen Williams

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When Vanessa Williams was growing up, she had a plan:

She’d go to college and major in musical theater; afterward she’d get her MFA from the Yale School of Drama, and then she would embark on a successful career on Broadway. But her life took a detour and she wound up the first black Miss America in September 1983 (an accomplishment that she never planned for or desired), only to be forced to resign ten months later due to a nude photo scandal-much to the shock of her mother, Helen, who had told her, “never pose nude for anyone”. But Vanessa survived this setback, and many others to come, to enjoy a thirty-plus-year career as an award-winning singer and actress. Vanessa has been asked to write her memoir many times, but only now-in collaboration with her mother, Helen-is she ready to tell her story.

Vanessa grew up in Millwood, New York, part of one of the town’s only African-American families. As a teenager, Vanessa and Helen were constantly at odds. But despite their early conflicts, Helen has always ardently protected and supported her daughter, staying in contact with the FBI about the death threats Vanessa received after being crowned and being there for her through the birth of her four children and dissolution of her two marriages.

Vanessa describes how she’s made it through the ups and downs of her life as well as her career-from the The Right Stuff to Kiss of the Spider Woman to Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives. Jointly written by Vanessa and Helen and filled with dozens of personal family photos and mementos, You Have No Idea is an empowering celebration of the love between a mother and daughter and the life, thus far, of a woman who beat the odds to achieve her destiny.

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