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tennessee williams
(1911-1983)

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williams

t e n n e s s e e   w i l l i a m s  :   b i o g .  ]


"All cruel people describe themselves as paragons of frankness."
- Tennessee Williams


biography | facts | selected books | books
streetcar named desire 1951 movie
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raymond chandler | william faulkner | john grisham
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williams


    t e n n e s s e e   w i l l i a m s  :   f a c t s

  • Name: Tennessee Williams
  • Birthname: Thomas Lanier Williams
  • Date of birth: 26 March 1911
  • Place of birth: Columbus, Mississippi, USA
  • Awards:
         - Pulitzer Prize, A Streetcar Named Desire, 1947
         - Tony Award, screenplay, The Rose Tattoo, 1951
         - New York Film Critics Award, film screenplay,
           A Streetcar Named Desire, 1953
         - Pulitzer Prize, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof , 1955
         - Brandeis University Creative Arts Award (1965)
         - Medal of Honor from the National Arts Club (1975)
         - $11,000 Commonwealth Award (1981)
         - Honorary doctorate, Harvard University (1982)
         - Distinguished Writer in Residence, University of
           British Columbia, Vancouver (1981)
  • Date of death: 25 February 1983
  • Place of death: New York, New York, USA
  • Cause of death: Choking on a bottle cap

    williams
    tennessee williams
    circa 1940s


    t e n n e s s e e   w i l l i a m s  :   b i o g .

    His life:
    Born to Cornelius and Edwina Dakin Williams on March 26, 1911, in Columbus, Mississippi, Thomas Lanier "Tennessee" Williams was amply prepared for writing about society¹s outcasts. His mother was an aggressive woman, obsessed by her fantasies of genteel Southern living. His father, a traveling salesman for a large shoe manufacturer, was at turns distant and abusive. His older sister, Rose, was emotionally disturbed and destined to spend most of her life in mental institutions. He remained aloof from his younger brother, Dakin, whom his father repeatedly favored over both of the older children. Who could have fortold that this shy, sickly, confused young man would become one of America's most famous playwrights.

    More than a half century has passed since critics and theater-goers recognized Williams as an important American playwright, whose plays fellow dramaturge David Mamet calls "the greatest dramatic poetry in the American language" (qtd. in Griffin 13). Williams's repertoire includes some 30 full-length plays, numerous short plays, two volumes of poetry, and five volumes of essays and short stories. He won two Pulitzer Prizes (for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955), and was the first playwright to receive, in 1947, the Pulitzer Prize for drama, the Donaldson Award, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in the same year.

    Although Williams's first professionally produced play, Battle of Angels, closed in 1940 because of poor reviews and a censorship controversy (Roudané xvii), his early amateur productions of Candles to the Sun and Fugitive Kind were well-received by audiences in St. Louis. By 1945 he had completed and opened on Broadway The Glass Menagerie, perhaps his best-known play, which won that year's New York Critics Circle, Donaldson, and Sidney Howard Memorial awards. In the course of his career, Williams accumulated four New York Drama Critics Awards; three Donaldson Awards; a Tony Award for his 1951 screenplay, The Rose Tattoo; a New York Film Critics Award for the 1953 film screenplay, A Streetcar Named Desire; the Brandeis University Creative Arts Award (1965); a Medal of Honor from the National Arts Club (1975); the $11,000 Commonwealth Award (1981); and an honorary doctorate from Harvard University (1982). He was honored by President Carter at Kennedy Center in 1979, and named Distinguished Writer in Residence at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in 1981.

    In addition to kudos from critics, Williams held for many years the attention of audiences in America and abroad. By 1955 his reputation was firmly established; that year's Broadway production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof ran for 694 performances (Roudane xx). Some years after their first Broadway runs, four of his plays were revived successfully there: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1974), Summer and Smoke (September, 1975), Sweet Bird of Youth (October, 1975), and The Glass Menagerie (December, 1975). On the day of Williams's death, the New York evening papers issued an impressive list of famous actors who have performed in his plays; these include Jessica Tandy, Marlon Brando, Geraldine Page, Paul Newman, Maureen Stapleton, Eli Wallach, Tallulah Bankhead, Burl Ives, Katherine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, and Bette Davis (Leverich 5-6). Whether one argues that these actors were made famous by Williams's work, or that the quality of his work attracted the most popular film and stage performers, the connection between Williams and these near-legends of film and stage establishes the playwright as one of the most important figures in twentieth-century drama. R. Barton Palmer notes that Williams had more influence on the development of American cinema than any other twentieth century playwright.

    The conflicts between sexuality, society, and Christianity, so much a part of Williams's drama, played themselves out in his life as well. Having spent almost all of his life as a wanderer--a sexual and religious outcast--Williams died on February 23, 1983. It is a curious coincidence that Williams¹s life ended in a place that shared the name of the apartment building in which one of his best-known characters, Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire, met her figurative end. He died in the Elysee Hotel in New York; the name of the apartment building in Streetcar is Elysian Fields. It is perhaps appropriate that Williams died in a hotel--the traditional bivouac of wanderers and outcasts--rather than in his home at Key West or in New Orleans. He was buried in St. Louis, in a Catholic ceremony, at the request of his brother.

    His Plays:
    Tennessee Williams claimed that all of his major plays fit into the "memory play" format he described in his production notes for The Glass Menagerie. The memory play is a three-part structure: (1) a character experiences something profound; (2) that experience causes what Williams terms an "arrest of time," a situation in which time literally loops upon itself; and (3) the character must re-live that profound experience (caught in a sort of mobius loop of time) until she or he makes sense of it. The overarching theme for his plays, he claimed, is the negative impact that conventional society has upon the "sensitive nonconformist individual."

    With their emphasis on the irrational, the desperation of humanity in a universe in which cosmic laws do not work, and their tragi-comic examination of the conflicts between the gentility of old Southern values and the brute force of new, Northern values, Williams's plays fit nicely into a genre critics call "Southern Gothic." He shares this field with such literary lights as Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner, who, like Williams, struggled with the macabre and eccentric natures of individuals in America's South. Although, like Faulkner, Williams spent much of his adult life in New York, his work focuses on the Southern experience.


    williams



    t e n n e s s e e   w i l l i a m s  :   b o o k s
    kunderagreenegenetfowlessartrecamus

  • short story: THE VENGEANCE OF NITROCIS, 1928 in Weird Tales
  • AMERICAN BLUES, 1939
  • THE GLASS MENAGERIE, 1945
  • A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, 1947
  • ONE ARM AND OTHER STORIES, 1948
  • SUMMER AND SMOKE, 1948
  • THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS. STONE, 1950
  • THE ROSE TATTOO, 1951
  • CAMINO REAL, 1953
  • HARD CANDY, A BOOK OF STORIES, 1954
  • THE CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, 1955
  • IN THE WINTER OF CITIES, 1956
  • BABY DOLL, 1956
  • ORPHEUS DESCENDING, 1957
  • SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER, 1958
  • SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH, 1959
  • A PERIOD OF ADJUSTMENT, 1960
  • THE NIGHT OF IGUANA, 1962
  • THE MILK TRAIN DOES NOT STOP HERE ANY MORE, 1962
  • THE ECCENTRICITIES OF A NIGTINGALE, 1964
  • SLAPSTICK TRAGEDY, 1966
  • THE KNIGHTLY QUEST, 1967
  • KINGDOM OF EARTH (THE SEVEN DESCENTS OF MYRTLE), 1967
  • IN THE BAR OF A TOKYO HOTEL, 1969
  • DRAGON COUNTRY, 1970
  • THE THEATRE OF TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, 1971-1981 ( 7 vols.)
  • SMALL CRAFT WARNINGS, 1973
  • OUT CRY, 1973
  • THE TWO CHARACTER PLAY (OUT CRY), 1973
  • EIGHT MORTAL LADIES POSSESSED, 1974
  • FLEE, FLEE THIS BAD HOTEL, 1974
  • MOISE AND THE WORLD OF REASON, 1975
  • MEMOIRS, 1975
  • THE RED DEVIL BATTERY SIGN, 1976
  • THIS IS (AN ENTERTAINMENT), 1976
  • ANDRIGYNE, MON AMOUR, 1977
  • TENNESSEE WILLIAMS'S LETTERS TO DONALD WINDHAM, 1977
  • VIEUX CARRÉ, 1978
  • WHERE I LIVE: SELECTED ESSAYS, 1978
  • A LOVELY SUNDAY FOR CREVE COEUR, 1978
  • CLOTHES FOR A SUMMER HOTEL, 1980
  • WILL MR. MERRIWEATHER RETURN FROM MEMPHIS?, 1981
  • SOMETHING CLOUDY, SOMETHING CLEAR, 1981
  • THE BAG PEOPLE, 1982
  • 27 WAGONS FULL OF COTTON AND OTHER SHORT PLAYS, 1982
  • IT HAPPENED THE DAY THE SUN ROSE, 1982
  • A HOUSE NOT MEANT TO STAND, 1982
  • COLLECTED STORIES, 1985
  • FIVE O'CLOCK ANGEL, 1990
  • THE THEATRE OF TENNESSEE WILLIAMS, 1971-1992 (8 VOLS)
  • THE SELECTED LETTERS OF TENNESSEE WILLIAMS: Vol. I, 1920-1945, 2000 (ed. by Albert J. Devlin and Nancy M. Tischler)


williams
t e n n e s s e e   w i l l i a m s

t e n n e s s e e   w i l l i a m s   b o o k s  ]
kunderagreenegenetfowlessartrecamus


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biography | facts | selected books | books
kunderagreenegenetfowlessartrecamus
raymond chandler | william faulkner | john grisham
ernest hemingway | stephen king
j.d. salinger | f. scott fitzgerald | tennessee williams

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