Co-writing Michael K. Williams memoir inspired bestselling author to find ‘larger purpose’

Karu F. Daniels
New York Daily News

Actor Michael K. Williams has become a best-selling author, one year after his shocking death.

The Brooklyn-born star of “The Wire” and “Boardwalk Empire” died on Sept. 6, 2021, at age 54.

His autobiography, titled “Scenes From My Life” was nearly done when Williams suffered a lethal overdose of fentanyl, heroin and cocaine.

"Scenes From My Life" by Michael K. Williams and Jon Sternfeld.

The 18-chapter tome, co-written by Jon Sternfeld, hit shelves on Aug. 23 and immediately became a bestseller. The book offers unflinching details of Williams’ childhood trauma, his battles with drug addiction and an acclaimed career that exceeded his own expectations.

Although Williams built a cult-like fan base by appearing in projects touching on civil injustice, homosexuality, domestic violence and slavery, his own journey and inner struggles remained private.

“That was part of his act,” Sternfeld told the Daily News. “He didn’t want people to know, because he thought it was like a weakness on his part.”

Sternfeld, who has co-written books with Sens. Tom Daschle and Trent Lott, and exonerated attorney Isaac Wright, Jr., was initially approached to write a book with Williams centered on his juvenile criminal justice work.

“When I first met him, it was all about that work ... over time, it became clear that his personal story had to play a role in the book, but he was way too humble,” Sternfeld said. “Mike was like, ‘I don’t want to write one of those books where it’s like, ‘Look, I made it, you can do, too.’”

After he was convinced that sharing his story would serve readers in a positive way, Williams agreed to open up.

“If Mike thought something could help people, he was all on board,” Sternfeld said.

Some parts of “Scenes From My Life” are brutally honest, particularly recollections of Williams’ complicated relationship with his mother, who died in July at age 94, the violent attack that led to the 5-inch scar on his face and his addiction to crack.

“I think Mike wanted to share his story but he was so trained to keep the pain down, that even though he had come to this mature place, there was still a little voice in his head saying, ‘Don’t let people see that.’ And he had to fight that,” the author said.

“He shared stuff with me and I would even say like, ‘are you sure you want this in the book? You know thousands of thousands of people are gonna read this ... And he would say, ‘I don’t have the liberty of leaving that stuff out.’”

Throughout the nearly three-year process of working with Williams, Sternfeld had to be available at a moment’s notice to talk with the busy actor. The experience led to his own epiphany.

“Being sort of part of Mike’s legacy, which was accidental, has been a big responsibility. And it’s making me feel the power of books in a way I did not before,” said the former New Rochelle high school teacher and Emory University-alum, who describes himself as a white Jewish kid from the suburbs and a “huge fan” of the actor.

”After writing Mike’s book with him, I can’t go back to a more direct ‘it’s just a job’ mentality,” he said.