Tennessee Williams

(1911-1983)

"He was born Thomas Lanier Willams on March 26, 1911, in Columbus, Mississippi" (Weales 172). For the first years of his life, Williams and his mother lived with his mother's father, an Episcopal clergyman. "In 1918 his father became a sales manager for a shoe company in St. Louis, Missouri" (McMichael 1603). At the age of fourteen he won first prize in an essay contest sponsored by a national magazine, The Smart Set. "When he was seventeen his first published story appeared in the August 1928 issue of Weird Tales" (McMichael 1603). The next year he entered the University of Missouri, but in 1932 he withdrew and took a job in the shoe factory where his father was a sales manager. "After working in the company warehouse for three years, he returned to college and graduated from the University of Iowa in 1938" McMichael 1603). Williams had begun writing plays at the University of Missouri, and after his graduation he continued to write while supporting himself with a variety of menial jobs. In 1939 he won a national drama award for a group of plays called American Blues. He achieved his first great stage success with The Glass Menagerie. "Produced in New York City in 1945, it won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Prize as the best play of the year" (McMichael 1602). Since that time, Williams averaged a play every two years.

Some people find Williams' subject matter offensive, but most audiences love his work. "They go to his plays not to be shocked byt to see the playwright's sympathetic portrayal of characters whose fears and loneliness reflect their own" (Weales 173). Tennessee Williams' creative legacy is perhaps far vaster than many of his admirers realize: a complete catalog would have to include more than twenty-five full-length plays, more than forty short plays, a dozen produced (and unproduced) screenplays and an opera libretto. These have been translated into at least twenty-seven languages, including Tamil, Welsh, Marathi and Hindi. In addition, there are two novels, a novella, more than sixty short stories, more than one hundred poems, an autobiography, a published jvolume of letters, introductions to plays and books by others, and occasional pieces and reviews. "He gave new meaning to the word prolific" (Spoto xvii).

"Tennessee Williams died in New York City on February 24, 1983" (Weales 173).