Porsha Williams on Her New Book, Why She Left ‘The Real Housewives of Atlanta’ and Surviving R. Kelly
When Porsha Williams realized she might want to write a book, she knew she had to speak with her mother first. Williams knew she’d be revealing secrets — specifically about the sexual abuse she’s experienced in her life — and she wanted her mother’s blessing. Her mother, who frequently appeared with Williams on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” of course had her back.
“She said, ‘I’m behind you all the way, whatever you want to do, I’m in full support of you,” Williams, 40, recounts during an in-depth interview over Zoom from her home in Georgia.
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“The Pursuit of Porsha: How I Grew Into My Power and Purpose” Williams’ resulting memoir, was written with Joi-Marie McKenzie, and will be released on Nov. 30 — two days after her new show, “Porsha’s Family Matters,” premieres on Bravo.
In the book, Williams delves into the most personal parts of her life, including her childhood depression, and having suicidal thoughts both as a child and an adult. She writes about what led to her having an abortion, and details her self-destructive patterns with men. She also relates how a boyfriend sexually assaulted her and — in what’s surely the most explosive revelation in “The Pursuit of Porsha” — she reveals she was in a chaotic, detrimental sexual relationship with R. Kelly during her mid-twenties. After being approached by the FBI years later about Kelly, Williams says she told them everything.
When reached by Variety, a representative for Kelly had no comment about Williams. Kelly was convicted of sex trafficking and racketeering in September, and faces decades in prison.
Williams also writes about her adventures on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” — both negative and positive — which coincides with her evolution as an activist in the Black Lives Matter movement. During the interview, she laughs frequently, and appears to be quite happy, as she sprinkles in mentions of Pilar, her 2 1/2 year-old daughter, and her fiancé, Simon Guobadia, whom she plans to marry next summer.
She’s so sanguine, in fact, that when told that on the new Peacock series “The Real Housewives: Ultimate Girls Trip” that Ramona Singer of “New York” repeatedly calls her former “Atlanta” co-star Kenya Moore by Williams’ name, she just laughs loudly, and says, “Oh, no, Ramona!”
Williams is then reminded of her own disastrous introduction to Moore in her “Real Housewives of Atlanta” debut in 2012, in which she mistakenly referred to Moore as having been “Miss America,” rather than “Miss USA” — a misstep that set the poisonous tone for their future as colleagues. “She didn’t even like me messing up her title,” Williams says, “I know she doesn’t want to be called me, Porsha!”
“Ramona is gonna be Ramona,” Williams continues. “She’s wild, she’s crazy. And she is all-around entertaining.”
In an interview with Variety, Williams talks about her growth over the course of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” why she decided to leave and what she wants to do next.
She also goes deep on the stories within “The Pursuit of Porsha.”
Courtesy of Stanlo Photography
Williams got pregnant during what she thought was a happy relationship with an NFL player, the former Washington Redskin running back Clinton Portis.
In the book, Williams writes that she had no idea who Portis was at first. During that time, when Williams was 24, she’d started a daycare center in Atlanta, and she and Portis had a long distance relationship. One she thought was thriving.
When she found out she was pregnant, and happily told Portis the news, he told her he wanted the baby — and that he and his mother will raise it. Williams faced the reality that their relationship was doomed, and after “a lot of somber contemplation,” she decided to have an abortion.
Considering how threatened reproductive rights are these days, in Georgia particularly, did Williams ever hesitate to say she’d gotten an abortion? “Out of everything that I talked about in the book, that was an easy one,” she says. The situation left her with no choice. “The shame and regret, and the hurt and the loss — all of that is the same feeling that a lot of women feel,” she says.
By going public about having had an abortion, she wants to help other women who’ve had them, who may feel shame about it: “Hopefully, another woman who is going through something like that, or has gone through something through like that, will be able to forgive themselves quicker than I did.”
Writing about it, in fact, set Williams free, she says. “I released myself from making that decision! I released myself from the shame.”
Williams writes about surviving sexual abuse by an early boyfriend.
Williams and a boyfriend, whom she calls Southern Jon in the book, began dating when she was in her mid-twenties. At first, their courtship seemed idyllic — until he took her away to a bed-and-breakfast for what was meant to be a romantic getaway. During dinner at a restaurant, something changed, like “a switch had flipped in Jon.” He called her “stupid,” and berated her for buying a promise ring with his credit card. The night continued to devolve — he acted enraged at her, and cursed at her, all out of nowhere. They returned to their cottage at the bed-and-breakfast, and after Williams moved to a love seat in order to not sleep in the bed with him, he attacked her.
“He’s going to rape me,” she writes that she thought to herself. She then describes the assault, which she fought off, until she eventually gave in: “I lay there,” she writes.
To Variety, Williams says she wanted to be even more specific about the assault in her book, and to label it more clearly. “In writing this book, I was so set on being 100% honest, 100% open, that it truly frustrated me not to be able to be more detailed than I was,” she says. “But for legal reasons, I was advised not to.”
Williams hopes the horror of what happened with Southern Jon is illustrative of a larger pattern she’d fallen into with men. “She’s looking for love in the wrong places,” Williams says of herself in that instance. “She’s wanting something from a man regardless of the red flags, regardless of anything else, and ending up in a place with yet another man who I loved who took advantage of me.”
“I was realizing that there was a pattern when I saw the look in his eyes,” she continues.
She also writes of her chilling experiences with R. Kelly.
That same pattern would soon lead Williams at 25 to R. Kelly’s mansion outside of Chicago, after she met one of his procurers in Las Vegas, who invited her to Kelly’s recording studio. After she arrived, she was led to Kelly’s bedroom, where she was left for hours. By the time Kelly showed up and propositioned her, Williams had no idea what to do — but felt she had no choice other than to submit to him.
“I’ve already put myself in this position,” she writes. “This is what you’re supposed to do. You have to.”
“I had my own business, I had my own home,” Williams says now about that time in her life. “It was a mentality that has been conditioned over the years by men — that they are better than me. And I only have value if they say I have value. I think me being in that weakened mindset made me ready and available for him to be a predator, and seek me out.”
His fame was significant to her, of course — but what was more important was her own self-destructive tendencies. “It’s not just that he was R. Kelly,” she says. “It’s just in my life at that moment, it was just yet another man in the same position doing the exact same thing taking advantage of me.”
In her final trip to Kelly’s home, there were “twenty or thirty other girls” there, attending a “party” for him, some of whom had been there for weeks. When he didn’t choose her at the party, she ended up alone, wondering, “What is my life?”
Then she heard screaming, and the sounds of a woman being beaten. She demanded to leave. Kelly called her many times after that, Williams writes, but she told him, “I’m done with you.”
Given that Kelly was convicted of sex trafficking of women and underage girls in September, after years of accusations against him, this section of “The Pursuit of Porsha” is a harrowing read.
Williams did get through her experience; it wasn’t easy, though. “When I got home from that last encounter, I knew I had hit a wall,” she says. “And I was completely traumatized, completely confused about why this was now happening to me again as a grown woman.”
Williams’ association with Kelly never was revealed until her book, even as she became famous on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.” She’d only told one friend about it, when she was going through it, so someone knew where she was for safety reasons. But Williams is also surprised that it’s remained a secret: “I wondered myself how.”
She saw Kelly one last time. For years, Williams was a co-host of the syndicated radio show out of Atlanta, “Dish Nation,” and in 2015, Kelly was a guest. He acted like a stranger — one who was interested in pursuing her again.
“What is so freaking crazy is that he literally tried to talk to me again!” Williams says. “And I thought to myself, ‘Oh my god. I went through one of the most traumatizing experiences in my life at your home with you, and you don’t remember me? This has happened that many times that you don’t remember that I’m that same person?’”
She even sings in the segment with Kelly, after being pushed into it by one of her co-hosts. Watching it is awkward — but Williams says at the time, she simply shut down in order to do her job. “I just went back to a common practice in my life of just putting on a mask, and playing the role,” Williams says. “And so I just played the role of Porsha on ‘Dish Nation.’”
When the FBI turned up on her doorstep years later to talk to her about Kelly, Williams readily cooperated.
“When the FBI left my house that day, I was so thankful for where God has brought me now — oh my God. I literally could have had church right in my foyer,” she says. “During talking to them, I had to be that Porsha to remember every single detail. But after they left, I just looked around my home, I saw my daughter later, and I just thanked God for just me surviving and being where I am today.”
Courtesy of Tommy Garcia/Bravo
“The Pursuit of Porsha” does detail Williams’ experience on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” — but it’s not a tell-all.
Williams announced she was leaving “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” in late September, after nine seasons on the show. When Williams first joined the cast in 2012, she was married to ex-NFL star Kordell Stewart, and famously didn’t know what the Underground Railroad was; upon her departure, she is the happy mother of Pilar, whom she had with ex-boyfriend, Dennis McKinley, and has become a face of the Black Lives Matter movement. She’s had one of the most fascinating, significant arcs in “Real Housewives” history.
In “The Pursuit of Porsha,” Williams writes affectionately about her times with castmates NeNe Leakes and Cynthia Bailey, and shades Kenya Moore by default by not even using her name when writing about her. Over Zoom, when asked about her best times on “Atlanta,” she says: “I think about the sisterhood — I really do.” She mentions Kandi Burruss being there for her after her divorce, and Leakes “on and off camera, just being the voice of reason in my life for me — helping guide me through this crazy divorce, this crazy new world of being a reality star.”
The worst times, Williams continues, were “dealing with anger management.”
“What I needed to do was get my emotions in check, and keep true to my character and understand what’s important,” she says, alluding to — but not getting into — her on-camera physical altercations with Moore and Bailey. “Through going to counseling during that time, I realized: ‘You know what? How you want to leave this world, what legacy you want to leave behind, that’s more important than any argument.”
As for her decision to leave the show — a rare voluntary departure in the “Real Housewives” universe — she says she’d been thinking about it for awhile.
“I knew that I wanted to semi-retire at 40,” Williams says. “After I had my daughter — listen — I just knew she was my world. That’s it. I just want as much time with her as possible. And with me in the past dealing with mental health, I knew that I needed to be as healthy mentally as I could be. No drama, etc. Just in a happy peaceful place for my baby girl.”
Williams is currently developing projects as a producer, which she “can’t necessarily speak on” yet. But she’s determined to “live some life off camera” for both “myself and my daughter.”
But she left “Atlanta” on good terms, she says: “It’s truly been a journey that I would never, ever regret.”
As for the possibility of coming back to the show someday, Williams is leaving the door open. “I would never say never,” she says. “You just don’t know.”
With all of that said, “Porsha’s Family Matters” — her spinoff show — premieres on Bravo on Nov. 28.
In May, Williams shocked the Bravo fandom by announcing her sudden engagement to Simon Guobadia, the not-yet-even-ex-husband of Falynn Guobadia, a designated “friend” from the “Atlanta” cast.
In the wake of that announcement, “Porsha’s Family Matters” was filmed during a family retreat in Mexico.
Williams says she’d been in talks with Bravo for another spinoff for awhile, after “Porsha’s Having a Baby” in 2019. “Porsha’s Family Matters” came together quickly. The idea came from her sister, Lauren, a spiritual advisor and meditation guidance counselor, who Williams says told her, “Let’s go on retreat with the women in our family — and let’s really heal together.”
Simon and Dennis also co-star on the show, and Williams is seen defending Guobadia in the preview. With the two men in her life — her fiancé and the father of her child — providing drama for her show, Williams says, “I guess you can just call me the GOAT! No, I’m just playing.”
Guobadia was always going to be on it, and she and McKinley have worked hard on their co-parenting relationship, with Williams “transitioning him into a family member,” she says.
Though “Porsha’s Family Matters” is being billed as a limited series, she would “absolutely” want it to continue.
Courtesy of Wilford Harewood/Bravo
By the end of Williams’ “Real Housewives” journey, she’d become a prominent activist, and was arrested twice during the uprisings of 2020.
Williams writes about her political awakening in “The Pursuit of Porsha,” as well as her decision to get arrested the first time — at a protest for Breonna Taylor in Kentucky.
“After I saw what happened to George Floyd, I was sad, upset. I was in pain,” she says now. “I just wanted to scream from the rooftop. And I had to go and be with the people of Atlanta — to get in the streets and try to speak truth to power, and figure out what it is we need to do. And through that search, I realized that if I have this platform, what is it that I need to do in order to be effective for the movement?”
She was arrested after an act of civil disobedience. “It just was something that I felt that I had to do,” Williams says. “And my daughter was in the forefront of my mind the entire time.”
Williams has changed so much before our eyes. Does it feel that way to her, too?
“I’m actually proud of myself that I was able to grow in a positive way,” she says. “I didn’t stay stagnant. I grew as an entrepreneur; I grew as a woman of substance. I truly found my voice, right on television. I found my way.”
And she’s achieved what she has by being true to herself. “After the first season, I was like, ‘Fuck it, I can’t live my life and be fake for these cameras!'” she says. “I was fake at certain points in my life before, wearing a mask. But you know what? This is the nitty gritty. I’m human, I live with my heart on my sleeve. And this is me, take it or leave it.”
“And that’s just how I have lived on the show,” she continues. “And it’s done me well. Because now, as imperfect as I still may be, I love all of me.”
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