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Tennessee Williams (born March 26, 1911 – February 25, 1983), né Thomas Lanier Williams, was an American playwright who received many of the top theatrical awards for his works of drama. He moved to New Orleans in 1939 and changed his name to "Tennessee", the state of his father's birth.

He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. In addition, The Glass Menagerie (1945) and The Night of the Iguana (1961) received New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards. His 1952 play The Rose Tattoo received the Tony Award for best play. In 1980 he was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter.

Biography

Childhood and education

Williams was born in Columbus, Mississippi, in the home of his maternal grandfather, the local Episcopal priest. He was of Welsh descent. The father often favored Tennessee's brother Dakin, perhaps because of Tennessee's illness and extended weakness and convalescence as a child. Tennessee's mother Edwina Dakin Williams had aspirations as a genteel southern lady and was smothering. She may have had a mood disorder. Tennessee Williams would find inspiration in his problematic family for much of his writing.

In 1918, when Williams was seven, the family moved again, this time to University City, Missourimarker, where he first attened Soldan High School, used in his work The Glass Menagerie and later University City High School. In 1927, at age 16, Williams won third prize (five dollars) for an essay published in Smart Set entitled, "Can a Good Wife Be a Good Sport?" A year later, he published "The Vengeance of Nitocris" in Weird Tales.

In the early 1930s Williams attended the University of Missourimarker, where he joined Alpha Tau Omega fraternity. In the late 1930s, Williams transferred to Washington Universitymarker in St. Louis, Missourimarker for a year, and finally earned a degree in 1938 from the University of Iowamarker, where he wrote "Spring Storm." By then, Williams had written Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay!. This work was first produced in 1935 by a community theater at 1780 Glenview in Memphis. He later studied at The New School in New York Citymarker.

Writer

Williams lived for a time in the French Quartermarker of New Orleans, Louisianamarker. He moved there in 1939 to write for the WPA. He first lived at 722 Toulouse Street, the setting of his 1977 play Vieux Carré. The building is part of The Historic New Orleans Collection. He began writing A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) while living at 632 St. Peter Street. He finished it later in Key West, Floridamarker, where he moved in the 1940s. While in New Orleans, Williams met and fell in love with Frank Merlo, a second generation Sicilian American who had served in the U.S. Navy in World War II.

Tennessee was close to his sister Rose, a slim beauty who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at a young age. As was common then, Rose was institutionalized and spent most of her adult life in mental hospitals. When therapies were unsuccessful, she showed more paranoid tendencies. In an effort to treat her, Rose's parents authorized a prefrontal lobotomy, a drastic treatment that was thought to help some mental patients who suffered extreme agitation. Performed in 1937 in Knoxville, Tennesseemarker, the operation incapacitated Rose for the rest of her life.

Williams never forgave his parents. Her surgery may have contributed to his alcoholism and his dependence on various combinations of amphetamines and barbiturates often prescribed by Dr. Max Jacobson.

Williams worked extremely briefly in the renowned Gotham Book Mart in Manhattan, lasting less than a day.

Williams' relationship with Frank Merlo lasted from 1947 until Merlo's death from cancer in 1963. With that stability, Williams created his most enduring works. Merlo provided balance to many of Williams' frequent bouts with depression and the fear that, like his sister Rose, he would go insane.

Death

Williams died on February 24, 1983, after he choked on an eyedrop bottle cap in his room at the Hotel Elyseemarker in New York. He would routinely place the cap in his mouth, lean back, and place his eyedrops in each eye. The police report, however, suggested his use of drugs and alcohol contributed to his death. Toxic drugs including barbiturates were found in the room, and Williams' gag response may have been diminished by the effects of drugs and alcohol.

Williams' funeral took place on March 3, 1983 at St. Malachy's Roman Catholic Church in New York City. Williams' body was interred in the Calvary Cemeterymarker, St. Louis, Missourimarker. Williams had long told his friends he wanted to be buried at sea at approximately the same place as the poet Hart Crane, as he considered Crane to be one of his most significant influences.

Williams left his literary rights to The University of the South in honor of his grandfather, Walter Dakin, an alumnus of the university, which is located in Sewanee, Tennesseemarker. The funds support a creative writing program. When his sister Rose died after many years in a mental institution, she bequeathed $7 million dollars from her part of the Williams estate to The University of the South as well.

In 1989, the University City Loop (in a suburb of St. Louis) inducted Tennessee Williams into its St. Louis Walk of Fame.

The work

The "mad heroine" theme that appeared in many of his plays seemed clearly influenced by the life of Williams' sister Rose.
Characters in his plays are often seen as representations of his family members. Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie was understood to be modeled on Rose. Some biographers believed that the character of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire is also based on her.

Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie was generally seen to represent Williams' mother, Edwina. Characters such as Tom Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie and Sebastian in Suddenly, Last Summer were understood to represent Williams himself. In addition, he used a lobotomy operation as a motif in Suddenly, Last Summer.

The Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded to A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and to Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. These two plays were later filmed, with great success, by noted directors Elia Kazan (Streetcar) with whom Williams developed a very close artistic relationship, and Richard Brooks (Cat). Both plays included references to elements of Williams' life such as homosexuality, mental instability, and alcoholism. Although The Flowering Peach by Clifford Odets was the preferred choice of the Pulitzer Prize jury in 1955 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was at first considered the weakest of the five shortlisted nominees, Joseph Pulitzer Jr., chairman of the Board, had seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and thought it worthy of the drama prize. The Board went along with him after considerable discussion.

Williams wrote The Parade, or Approaching the End of a Summer when he was 29 and worked on it through his life. It seemed an autobiographical depiction of an early romance in Provincetown, Massachusettsmarker. This play was produced for the first time on October 1, 2006 in Provincetown by the Shakespeare on the Cape production company, as part of the First Annual Provincetown Tennessee Williams Festival.

The Parade, or Approaching the End of a Summer was among several works published by New Directions in the spring of 2008, edited and introduced by Williams scholar Annette J. Saddik. This collection of experimental plays was titled The Traveling Companion and Other Plays.usc

Williams' last play A House Not Meant to Stand is a gothic comedy published in 2008 by New Directions with a foreword by Gregory Mosher and an introduction by Thomas Keith. Williams called his last play a "Southern gothic spook sonata."

Other works by Williams include Camino Real and Sweet Bird of Youth.

Plays by Tennessee Williams

Apprentice plays

Major plays

Short stories by Tennessee Williams



One-act collections by Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams wrote over 70 one-act plays during his lifetime. The one-acts explored many of the same themes that dominated his longer works. Williams' major collections are published by New Directions in New York City.













Selected works

  • Gussow, Mel and Holditch, Kenneth, eds. Tennessee Williams, Plays 1937-1955 (Library of America, 2000) ISBN 978-1-88301186-4.
  • Gussow, Mel and Holditch, Kenneth, eds. Tennessee Williams, Plays 1957-1980 (Library of America, 2000) ISBN 978-1-88301187-1.


Related Works

A book is coming out soon by a former assistant, Scott. John Uecker is also has directed Williams' plays in addition to creating an edit of In Masks Outrageous and Austere.

See also



Footnotes



References

File:Tennessee Williams NYWTS.jpg
  • Gross, Robert F., ed. Tennessee Williams: A Casebook. Routledge (2002). ISBN 0-8153-3174-6.
  • Leverich, Lyle. Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams. W. W. Norton & Company; Reprint edition (1997). ISBN 0-393-31663-7.
  • Saddik, Annette. The Politics of Reputation: The Critical Reception of Tennessee Williams' Later Plays (London: Associated University Presses, 1999).
  • Spoto, Donald. The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams. Da Capo Press (Reprint, 1997). ISBN 0-306-80805-6.
  • Williams, Tennessee. Memoirs. Doubleday (1975). ISBN 0-385-00573-3.
  • Williams, Dakin. His Brother's Keeper: The Life and Murder of Tennessee Williams.
  • Sewanee, The University of the South


External links




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