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Tennessee Williams
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TENNESSEE (THOMAS LANIER) WILLIAMS
(1911-1983)


Mississippi-born dramatist, novelist, and poet, Tennessee Williams is best known for his steamy plays which explore the conflict between a fading ethos of Southern gentility and a savage modern world. Smoldering with sensuality, smoking with anger and bitterness, reeking with the raunchy wit and grit of his troubled, though often redeemed characters, Williams' dramas blaze across the pages of 20th century American theatre history. The author of short stories, memoirs, and a novella, THE ROMAN SPRING OF MRS. STONE, Williams also created words intended for music in poems like the ones Paul Bowles chose for his BLUE MOUNTAIN BALLADS and in a libretto for the opera by Raffaello de Banfield, LORD BYRON'S LOVE LETTER.

As Williams' would describe him in THE GLASS MENAGERIE, his father was a traveling salesman who fell in love with long distances and skipped the light fantastic out of town, leaving behind in Columbus, MS, in painfully straitened circumstances Tom, his physically and mentally challenged sister and their neurotic mother. The genteel daughter of a clergyman, Tom's mother moved her family to a cheerless apartment in Saint Louis in 1919 where he spent his adolescence and young manhood. His tenure at the University of Missouri was a rocky one, interrupted by odd jobs and a nervous collapse brought on by his desperate attempts to "write his way out" of Saint Louis. In 1936 he enrolled at Washington University, transferring to the University of Iowa, from which he was graduated in 1938 with a degree in playwriting and theatre arts.

In the years following college Williams drifted from city to city and job to job, all the while writing stories, poems, and plays. He received encouragement and support from the Group Theatre, agent Audrey Wood, and the Chicago theatre critics, who fought to insure that his autobiographical play, THE GLASS MENAGERIE, made it to New York, where it won the 1944 Critics Circle Award and established Williams' reputation. There followed the Pulitzer Prize-winning A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1947) and CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (1955), THE ROSE TATOO (1950), ORPHEUS DESCENDING (1957), SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH (1959), and THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA (1962)--all of which became stage and screen classics. In each of these, as is in poetry and other writings, Williams examines the world of human passions and perversions with scathing honesty, fierce wit, and frequent tenderness. His work is fraught with images of brutality counterbalanced by fragile beauty and is haunted by the loneliness, isolation, guilt, and ambiguity which fashioned his own psyche.


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