Tennessee Williams (1911-83)

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Williams, Tennessee (1911-83), American playwright and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, whose works are set largely in the American South.

Williams was born in Columbus, Mississippi, on March 26, 1911, and named Thomas Lanier Williams. He spent most of his youth in St. Louis, Missouri. After intermittent attendance at the University of Missouri and Washington University, he received a B.A. degree from the University of Iowa in 1938. He worked at a variety of odd jobs until 1945, when he first appeared on the Broadway scene as the author of The Glass Menagerie. This evocative "memory play" won the New York Drama Critics' Circle award as the best play of the season.

It was filmed in 1950 and has been performed on the stage throughout the world. The emotion-charged A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) has been called the best play ever written by an American. It was successfully filmed (1952), and it won Williams his first Pulitzer Prize in drama. He was awarded another Pulitzer for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (stage, 1954; film, 1958).

All three of these plays contain the poetic dialogue, the symbolism, and the highly original characters for which Williams is noted and are set in the American South, a regional background which the author used to create a remarkable blend of decadence, nostalgia, and sensuality. Other successful plays by Williams are Summer and Smoke (1948), rewritten as Eccentricities of a Nightingale (produced 1964); The Rose Tattoo (1950); the long one-act Suddenly Last Summer (1958); Sweet Bird of Youth (1959); and Night of the Iguana (1961). Although Williams continued to write for the theater, he was unable to repeat the success of most of his early works. One of his last plays was Clothes for a Summer Hotel (1980), based on the American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda. Williams died in New York City, February 25, 1983.

Two collections of Williams's many one-act plays were published: 27 Wagons Full of Cotton (1946) and American Blues (1948). Williams's fiction includes two novels, The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1950) and Mo´se and the World of Reason (1975) and four volumes of short stories—One Arm and Other Stories (1948), Hard Candy (1954), The Knightly Quest (1969), and Eight Mortal Ladies Possessed (1974). Nine of his plays were made into films, and he wrote one original screenplay, Baby Doll (1956). In his provocative Memoirs (1975), Williams described his own dramatic problems with drugs and alcohol and his latterly avowed homosexuality.

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