Williams, Tennessee

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Williams, Tennessee

Tennessee Williams (Thomas Lanier Williams), 1911–83, American dramatist, b. Columbus, Miss., grad. State Univ. of Iowa, 1938. One of America's foremost 20th-century playwrights and the author of more than 70 plays, he achieved his first successes with the productions of The Glass Menagerie (1945) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1947; Pulitzer Prize). In these plays, as in many of his later works, Williams explores the intense passions and frustrations of a disturbed and frequently brutal society. Unable to write openly about his homosexuality in the 1950s and 60s, he displaced the imagined and experienced pleasures and pains of sexual relations from the autobiographical into nominally heterosexual dramas.

An eloquently symbolic poet of the theater, Williams is noted for his scenes of high dramatic tension and for his brilliant, often lyrical dialogue. Williams is perhaps most successful in his portraits of the hypersensitive and lonely Southern woman, such as Blanche in Streetcar, clutching at life, particularly at her memories of a grand past that no longer exists. His later plays, which never quite achieve the poignant immediacy of his first two successes, include Summer and Smoke (1948), The Rose Tattoo (1950), Camino Real (1953), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955; Pulitzer Prize), Sweet Bird of Youth (1959), Period of Adjustment (1959), Night of the Iguana (1961), The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Any More (1963), The Seven Descents of Myrtle (1968), In the Bar of the Tokyo Hotel (1969), and Small Craft Warnings (1972).

A number of Williams's one-act plays were collected in 27 Wagons Full of Cotton (1946) and The American Blues (1948). He also wrote four collections of short fiction: One Arm and Other Stories (1948), Hard Candy (1954), The Knightly Quest (1969), and Eight Mortal Ladies Possessed (1974); a novel, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1950); two volumes of verse, In the Winter of Cities (1956) and Androgyne, Mon Amour (1977); and a number of film scripts, including one, Baby Doll (1956), based on two of his short plays.

See his Memoirs (1974, repr. 2006) and Notebooks (2007), ed. by M. B. Thornton; D. Windham, ed., Tennessee Williams's Letters to Donald Windham, 1940–1965 (1976) and A. J. Devlin and N. M. Tischler, ed., The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams (2 vol., 2000–2004); A. J. Devlin, ed., Conversations with Tennessee Williams (1986); D. Spoto, The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams (1985, repr. 1997), D. Windham, As If: A Personal View of Tennessee Williams (1985), R. Boxill, Tennessee Williams (1987), R. Hayman, Tennessee Williams: Everyone Else Is an Audience (1993), and L. Leverich, Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams (1995); critical studies by S. L. Falk (1962), F. Donahue (1964), E. M. Jackson (1965), I. Rogers (1976), J. Tharpe, ed. (1977), H. Rasky (1986), G. W. Crandell, ed. (1996), R. A. Martin, ed. (1997), O, C. Kolin, ed. (2002), R. F. Voss, ed. (2002), M. Paller (2005), and H. Bloom, ed. (rev. ed. 2007).

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