Saturday, July 5, 2008


Born: March 26, 1914
Columbus, Mississippi
Died: February 25, 1983
New York, New York

American dramatist, playwright, and writer

Tennessee Williams, dramatist and fiction writer, was one of America’s major mid-twentieth-century playwrights. He is best known for his powerful plays, A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Becoming Tennessee

Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams in Columbus, Mississippi, on March 26, 1914, the second of three children of Cornelius and Edwina Williams. His father, a traveling salesman, was rarely home and for many years the family lived with his mother’s parents. As a result, the young boy developed a close relationship with his grandfather, and also his older sister, Rose. William’s family life was never a happy one. His parents were resentful of each other, his mother once describing her husband as “a man’s man” who loved to gamble and drink. When his father obtained a position at a shoe factory, the family moved to a crowded, low-rent apartment in St. Louis, Missouri.

About this time, young Thomas adopted the name Tennessee (presumably because many of his descendants hailed from that state). Williams grew to hate St. Louis. He and his sisters were often ridiculed by other students because of their Southern accent. He also skipped school regularly and did poorly in his studies, preferring instead to escape into the world of reading and writing.

At the age of sixteen Williams published his first story. The next year he entered the University of Missouri but left before taking a degree. He worked for two years for a shoe company, spent a year at Washington University (where he had his first plays produced), and earned a bachelor of arts degree from the State University of Iowa in 1938, the year he published his first short story under his literary name, Tennessee Williams.

In 1940 the Theatre Guild produced Williams’s Battle of Angels in Boston, Massachusetts. The play was a total failure and was withdrawn after Boston’s Watch and Ward Society banned it. Between 1940 and 1945 he lived on grants (donated money) from the Rockefeller Foundation and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, on income scraped together from an attempt to write film scripts in Hollywood, and on wages as a waiter-entertainer in Greenwich Village in New York City.


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