Tennessee Williams (1911 – 1983)

Born Thomas Lanier Williams, March 26, 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi, Williams would later become one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century.

Williams took the name Tennessee from the state his father was from, although his father, a traveling shoe-salesman, and abusive alcoholic, reportedly disdained his young son. After contracting diphtheria at a young age the young Williams became frail, and his mother doted over him, furthering the abuse from his father. The family moved to St. Louis after his father's promotion when he was eight years old.

Williams began publishing as a teenager, earning $5 in a contest for the Smart Set titled, "Can a Good Wife Be a Good Sport?," and a year later publishing the short story "The Vengeance of Nitocris" in the August 1928 issue of the magazine Weird Tales. From 1929-1931 he attended the University of Missouri, in Columbia. At 21 his father pulled him out of school to work at the International Shoe Company factory, but Williams hated the 9-5 job. Focused on making money from his writing, Williams vowed to write a story a week, often working late into the night on Saturdays and Sundays fueled by black coffee and cigarettes. Unhappy and unsuccessful with his writing Williams suffered a nervous breakdown at the age of 24, leaving his job. In 1936 he enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis, then in 1937 the University of Iowa, where he graduated with a BA in English in 1938. He continued to write, mainly plays, and although he received a Rockefeller Foundation grant in 1939 he didn't find success with his plays. He used the grant money to move to New Orleans to write for the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

During the winter of 1944-1945 Williams finally began to find success, first with his Play "The Glass Menagerie," which opened in Chicago before moving to New York for a long stint on Broadway. Then, in 1947, "A Streetcar Named Desire" hit the stage and became a sensation. Between 1948 and 1959 seven of his plays were performed on Broadway, as Williams traveled the world with his partner Frank Merlo, trying to stay inspired by stints in various cities including New York, New Orleans, Key West, Rome, Barcelona, and London.

In the early 1950s The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire were made into major motion pictures, furthering William's success and celebrity.

After his success in the 1940s and 1950s, Williams continued to write daily, but the 1960s and 1970s were filled with personal failure and tragedies. Drugs and alcohol affected Williams work, and he was unable to duplicate his earlier successes, although he was still producing many plays.

Tennessee Williams died February 25, 1983 in his suite in the Hotel Elysée in New York, at the age of 71. The coroner ruled he had choked to death from the cap of his eye drops bottle.

Books by Tennessee Williams