Mesa author

Arizona native Kelli Donley-Williams has penned four books with ties to Arizona. She is available for consultations at Red Mountain Library. (Kelli Donley-Williams/Submitted)

Mesa author Kelli Donley-Williams, who works in public health, recalled a jog in rural Mozambique a few years ago. 

“I had a parade of children running after me, wondering what in the world I was doing,” she said. 

“I had an iPod at the time and I stopped and pulled out my ear buds and let them listen to the music for a few minutes while I caught my breath. They were delighted.”

The Arizona native, the current Writer in Residence at Mesa Public Library, has a trove of real-life experiences to draw from for her writing. She is available through April for consultations and events at the Red Mountain Branch.

“The world is a big, magical place,” she said. “If you have the ability to go travel, don’t stay at your hotel. If you can, find a way to share a meal with people who live where you are visiting. 

“Be curious, generous and kind. In my experience, this returns to you ten-fold.”

From 2003-2008, Donley-Williams worked in international health, developing and implementing health programming for women and children in Bolivia, Mexico, Mozambique and Nicaragua. 

Earlier, she was an agroforestry Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, which made her change course from journalism to public health. 

Her bachelor of science degree in journalism from Northern Arizona University was followed by a graduate degree in public health from University of Arizona.

“At 23, I had health projects in Africa, South America, Central America, and the US that I was responsible for. I had the opportunity to travel to each of these and spend a good bit of time working at the project sites,” she said. 

“I didn’t realize at the time how much this would influence my life. I wasn’t yet publishing, but once I sat down to write, I knew I had to include rich cultural details I’d learned through these travels,” she added.

Her first novel, Under the Same Moon, alternates its setting between a Mozambiquan village and Arizona with a story of a kidnapped girl faced with a life-changing decision.

Basket Baby, set in Bolivia, revolves around a mysterious baby left in a basket on the front porch of an American woman’s house while Counting Coup features a protagonist who stumbles upon a stack of old letters that tells of wrongdoings at the Indian school system.

Her newest book, Desert Divide, alternates between a ranch in the high desert of southeastern Arizona and Mexico City and solves a mystery of a dead young woman found in the desert.

What unites her books?

“I think the recurring theme of my work is redemption,” Donley-Williams replied. “People make mistakes and can learn from them. 

“I also always have a strong female lead character, and there is always a tie to Arizona. My mom would tell you I also always include a character that could be her – which may or may not be true.”

The author’s reader demographic fits with general or historical fiction readers “who enjoy a good story.” 

These are also her favorite genres to read. 

“I think a writer who earns their stripes spends as much time reading for pleasure and for research as they do writing,” she said.

“When I have the time to sit down and write, time flies by and on a good day, it feels like my higher power is in control and I’m just the method for getting the story on the page,” she said. 

“If you are an athlete, it is the same feeling of being ‘in the zone.’ It is ethereal to look up and realize three hours have gone and you have a new twist or turn to your story on the page and you have no idea where the idea came from,” she added. 

Donley-Williams also serves on the boards for United Food Bank, the Arizona Public Health Association and the Phoenix Modern Quilt Guild. 

She is also a member of the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at Arizona State University.

At the end of a busy day, she’s the happiest at her dinner table with husband Jason, she said,  “or just being surrounded by family. 

“Nothing makes me happier than having friends and family around a table for a board game,” she added. “I love being with others who make me laugh and challenge my world view.”

Donley-Williams realizes her good fortune. 

“So much of what I have in life that set me up for success was entirely out of my control,” she said. “I have two parents who still love each other and who provided a great childhood, encouraging us at every step of the way. 

“I had loving grandparents who I learned so much from. I had a great education and was able to attend university. And from there, I had the chance to travel and see the world. I’m exceptionally grateful.”

To sign up for a writing consultation with Kelli Donley-Williams, go to An April 22 workshop is titled “What to say? How to capture your audience with strong dialogue.”

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.