Phillip H. McMath is a Little Rock trial lawyer, an award-winning writer, a Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran and an ardent advocate for preserving and promoting Arkansas literature and history. McMath has authored four novels and numerous short stories and articles, in addition to writing and producing four plays. His book Lost Kingdoms was the winner of the Arkansiana Award for fiction in 2009, while The Broken Vase received the Booker Worthen Prize in 2011 . McMath, with friend and fellow writer, Jack Butler, established the Porter Prize in 1984, which has made a significant contribution to literature in Arkansas.
Phillip H. McMath was born December 25, 1945, in Memphis, Tennessee, to Sidney Sanders McMath and Anne Phillips McMath; he has two brothers and two sisters. In 1948, McMath’s father was elected governor of Arkansas and served two terms. In February 1950, the McMath family moved into the newly constructed Arkansas Governor’s Mansion as its first residents.
McMath received his elementary education in Little Rock and Sheridan public schools. His 7th school year was spent at Pulaski Heights Middle School and the next two years at Castle Heights Military Academy in Lebanon, Tennessee. McMath graduated from Hall High School in Little Rock in 1963.
He attended Hendrix Colloge and the University of Arkansas, finishing his studies in 1967 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Dramatic Arts. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marines after graduation, then completed Marine Corps officer’s Basic School in Quantico, V.A. in 1968.
McMath then married Carol Belew of Vernon, Texas, and they began their life together at Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, California.
McMath served as a tank platoon and company commander in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970 assigned to First Tank Battalion, First Marine Division, near DaNang. McMath received the Combat Action, National Defense, Vietnam Service and Vietnam Campaign Ribbons. He was discharged from active duty as a first lieutenant and promoted to captain in the Marine Reserve.
After graduating from the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1973, he 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, in which the Court found that the inmates’ living conditions were unconstitutional.
In 1984, August House Press published McMath’s novel Native Ground (first of a trilogy) about Arkansas and Vietnam. In 1991, the second of the trilogy, Arrival Point was published by M&M Press. The third, Lost Kingdoms, was published in 2007 by Phoenix International Press, which later printed 2nd editions of the first two books. The Broken Vase (Butler Center Books, 2010), a roman a clef 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, the novel was dedicated at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Israel. In 2011 The Broken Vase won the Booker Worthen Prize for fiction.
McMath wrote and produced four full-length plays at the Weekend Theater in Little Rock: Dress Blues (1999); The Hanging of David O. Dodd (2011); Karski’s Message (2015), about Jan Karski, a World War II Polish resistance fighter and Lincoln’s Dream in 2019. The docudrama The Hanging of David O. Dodd was written and produced by McMath and shown in the Little Rock Film Festival and on the Arkansas Educational Television Network (AETN). He has authored several short stories, including “Micah,” published by Arkansas Literary Forum in 2000, and, in addition, 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 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 Prize, a literary award presentend 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 AETN and at various film festivals. He is a past president of the Arkansas Literary Society, a member of the National Association of Scholars and is a member of the College of Fine Arts and Communication Advisory Committee for the University of Central Arkansas. In 2009, McMath was inducted into the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame, and he became a member of the Dramatists Guild of America in 2016.
In 2015, the UCA Writing Department established the annual 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.