Tennessee Williams

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Tennessee Williams
Thomas Lanier Williams
BirthplaceColumbus, Mississippi, United States

Williams, Tennessee

(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), L. Leverich, Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams (1995), and J. Lahr, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (2014); 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).

Williams, Tennessee


(real name Thomas Lanier Williams). Born Mar. 26,1914, in Columbus, Miss. American playwright.

Williams studied at the universities of Missouri and Iowa between 1935 and 1938. As a playwright, he shows a critical perception of reality, as in The Glass Menagerie (1944), and a particular sympathy for the doomed protagonists of such plays as A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) and Orpheus Descending (1957). The influence of naturalism and modernism, as well as of the idealist tendencies in modern philosophy, is especially evident in The Night of the Iguana (1961) and the plays in his collection Dragon Country (1970). In the staging of his works, Williams, who espouses the concept of a “plastic theater, ” makes prominent use of mise-en-scène, lighting, and musical effects to reinforce the text.

Williams also has written short stories, some of which have been collected in Eight Mortal Ladies Possessed (1974). In both theme and style, they are closely related to his dramatic works.


Four Plays. London, 1956.
Five Plays. London, 1962.
In Russian translation:
“Stekliannyi zverinets” i eshche deviat’p’es. Moscow, 1967.
“Sladkogolosaia ptitsa iunosti.” Teatr, 1975, no. 12.


Istoriia amerikanskoi literatury, part 2. Moscow, 1971.
Maxwell, G. Tennessee Williams and Friends. Cleveland-New York [1965],

Williams, Tennessee (b. Thomas Lanier Williams)

(1911–83) playwright; born in Columbus, Miss. From an old Tennessee family (he adopted his first name by 1939 while in New Orleans), he was raised under the influence of his clergyman-grandfather. Moving with his family to St. Louis in 1913, he went on to several colleges, graduating from the State University of Iowa in 1938. He moved around the country for many years, working at odd jobs while he wrote short plays and getting occasional productions in community theaters; in 1943 he briefly worked as a scriptwriter for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He gained sudden success with the New York production of The Glass Menagerie (1945) and his next and greatest success came with A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), which won a Pulitzer Prize. Although Williams' life was marked by personal disarray, mental stress, and drug addiction, he enjoyed long-term relationships with male companions and continued to be productive. In 1968 he converted to Catholicism. His later plays include Summer and Smoke (1948), The Rose Tattoo (1950), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955, Pulitzer Prize), Sweet Bird of Youth (1959), and Night of the Iguana (1961). He also published two novels and a fair amount of poetry. Several of his plays were made into successful movies, but his later works were not well received and he became disaffected from the New York professional theater. He died by choking on the cap of a bottle of pills. His best work is distinguished by a poetry, intensity, and compassion that guarantee him a permanent place as a major artist-dramatist.