Phillip Hal McMath (1945–)
Phillip Hal McMath is a Little Rock (Pulaski County) trial attorney, an award-winning writer, a Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran, and an ardent advocate for preserving and promoting Arkansas literature and history. McMath has published four novels and numerous short stories and articles, along with producing two plays. His book Lost Kingdoms was the winner of the Arkansiana Fiction Award in 2009, while The Broken Vase received the Booker Worthen Prize in 2011 . McMath established the Porter Prize in 1984, which has made a significant contribution to literature in Arkansas.
Phillip McMath was born in Memphis, Tennessee, to Sidney Sanders McMath and Anne Phillips McMath on December 25, 1945; he has two brothers and two sisters. In 1948, McMath’s father was elected governor of Arkansas, going on to serve two terms. In February 1950, the McMath family moved into the newly constructed Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, becoming its first residents.
McMath received his elementary education in Little Rock’s public schools. His junior high school years were spent at Pulaski Heights Middle School and then Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, Tennessee. McMath graduated from Hall High School in Little Rock in 1963.
He attended Hendrix College in Conway (Faulkner County) and the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), graduating from the latter in 1968 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and dramatic arts. In college, McMath participated in the Platoon Leaders Course (an officer commissioning program for U.S. Marines) and was commissioned a second lieutenant after graduation.
McMath married Carol Belew of Vernon, Texas, in 1968.
McMath served as a tank platoon and company commander in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 and was assigned to First Tank Battalion, First Marine Division. His tank crews regularly served in direct support of U.S. Marine ground forces and engaged in combat southwest and north of Da Nang. McMath’s units were assigned the M48-A3, a fifty-two-ton tank that had a four-man crew and a 90mm cannon. McMath received the Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Medal, Vietnam Service Ribbon, and Vietnam Campaign Ribbon. He was discharged from active duty as a first lieutenant and promoted to captain in the Marine Reserve.
He entered law school in 1970 at the University of Arkansas School of Law on the G.I. Bill. He graduated in 1973 and became engaged in the general practice of law as a trial lawyer. He is past president of the McMath Woods, P.A., law firm, and he remains of counsel with the firm. McMath is a member of International Society of Barristers and was named by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as one of the best lawyers in Arkansas. He is an Ike Scott Fellow of the Pulaski County Bar Association. In a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Finney v. Hutto (1978), McMath represented inmates in the Arkansas prison system; the court found that the inmates’ living conditions were unconstitutional.
McMath has published several novels, including Native Ground (first of a trilogy), a book about Vietnam that was first published in 1984 by August House. In 1991, McMath published the second book of his trilogy, Arrival Point (M&M Press). The third book was Lost Kingdoms, published by Phoenix International Press in 2007, which later reprinted the other two volumes. The Broken Vase (Butler Center Books, 2010), a book about the Holocaust, was written in collaboration with Penina Krupitsky, a Holocaust survivor, and based on the research of Emily Matson Lewis. With McMath in attendance, it was dedicated at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Israel. The Broken Vase was the winner of the Booker Worthen Prize in 2011.
McMath wrote three full-length plays that were produced by the Weekend Theater in Little Rock: Dress Blues (1999), The Hanging of David O. Dodd (2011), and Karski’s Message (2015), about Jan Karski, a World War II Polish resistance fighter. He has also authored several short stories, including “Micah,” which was published by Arkansas Literary Forum in 2000. In addition, he has written articles and book reviews for Arkansas Lawyer, the Los Angeles Times, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Independent News Moscow, the Washington Times, Pulaski County Historical Review, and many other publications.
McMath was the winner of the 1993 Freedom Foundation Award in Communications for an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 1992. In 2011, he was awarded a Certificate of Appreciation by the Jewish Federation of Arkansas for his commitment to teaching the history of the Holocaust and other acts of genocide.
In 1984, McMath co-founded the Porter Fund Prize, a literary award presented exclusively to writers with a connection to the state of Arkansas. He also produced a film documentary about the prize, Encouragement for the Young Writer, which appeared on Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN) and at various film festivals. He is a past president of the Arkansas Literary Society and is a member of the College of Fine Arts and Communication Advisory Committee for the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway and a member of the National Association of Scholars. In 2009, McMath was inducted into the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame. McMath became a member of the Dramatists Guild of America in 2016.
In 2015, the UCA Writing Department established the Phillip H. McMath Post-Publication Book Award, whose mission it is to honor the contributions of McMath to the Arkansas literary community and to promote outstanding books by emerging writers.
In October 2016, the Weekend Theater in Little Rock held a dramatic reading of McMath’s play Lincoln’s Dream; a full production of the play premiered at the Weekend Theater in spring 2019.
For additional information:
Arnold, Morris. “Review of Lost Kingdoms, by Phillip H. McMath.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 68 (Spring 2009): 112–114.
Calloway, Catherine. “‘Quentin Broke His Watch’: The Theme of Time in Phillip H. McMath’s Native Ground.” Publications of the Arkansas Philological Association 14 (Fall 1988): 11–19.
McMath, Sidney S. Promises Kept: A Memoir. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2003.
Phillip H. McMath. http://phillipmcmath.com/ (accessed September 16, 2021).
Phillip Hal McMath Collection. University of Central Arkansas Archives and Special Collections, Conway, Arkansas.
University of Central Arkansas
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