Tennessee Williams was named Thomas Lanier Williams when he was born in Columbus, Mississippi on March 26, 1911. "The Glass Menagerie" was his first successful play, and since that work was performed in 1944, his plays have been continually performed all over the world. He's usually named--with Eugene O'Neill and Arthur Miller--as one of the three leading American dramatists of the 20th century. Tennessee Williams was not only celebrated by theater-goers, but he was awarded the Drama Critics Circle Award for "The Glass Menagerie", along with the Pulitzer Prize and the Drama Critics Circle Award for "A Streetcar Named Desire."
"A Streetcar Named Desire" ran for 855 performances when makes this play one of his most famous (as well as one of his most controversial) plays. Here Blanche fights against reality. She wants to reside in the shadows--in a fantasy-land of her own rendering. She explains: "I don't want realism. I'll tell you what I want. Magic!... Yes, yes, magic! I try to give that to people. I misinterpret things to them. I don't tell truth, I tell what ought to be truth. And if that is sinful, then let me be damned for it! -- Don't turn the light on!"
About This Collection
Mel Gussow and Kenneth Hoditch pulled "A Streetcar Named Desire" and other early plays together in this first volume of Tennessee Williams Works: "Spring Storm," "Not About Nightingales," "Battle of Angels," "I Rise in Flame," "Cried the Phoenix," from "Wagons Full of Cotton," "The Glass Menagerie," "Summer and Stroke," "The Rose Tattoo," "Camio Real," and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof". Of these plays, "The Glass Menagerie," "A Streetcar Named Desire," and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" are the most famous plays.
The second volume contains plays: "Orpheus Descending," "Suddenly Last Summer," "Sweet Bird of Youth," "Period of Adjustment," "The Night of the Iguana," "The Eccentricities of a Nightingale," "The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore," "The Mutilated," "Kingdom of Earth," "Small Craft Warnings," "Out Cry," "Vieux Carre," and "A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur."
About the Later Plays
A partial explanation for the change in his writing-style, or in the content of his plays, has been linked to his deep depression, which he said was "almost clinical" during the last 20 years of his life. The death of Frank Merlo, a close friend and lover to Williams, also drove him toward mental instability.
Although his later plays have largely been dismissed, several of them ("Outcry" and "A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur") are experiencing a re-evaluation. Of course, with such controversial subjects as murder, rape, homosexuality, nymphomania, drug and alcohol addition, and mental illness, the body of Williams' work may never be fully accepted or understood.
At least he experienced some widespread acclaim in his own life. Before his death in 1983, Tennessee Williams won 4 New York Drama Critics Awards, 3 Donaldson Awards; a Tony Award (for "The Rose Tattoo," 1951), a New York Film Critics Award ("A Streetcar Named Desire," 1953), the Brandeis University Creative Arts Award (1965), a Medal of Honor from the National Arts Club (1975), the $11,000 Commonwealth Award (1981), and an honorary doctorate from Harvard University (1982). President Carter honored Tennessee Williams at the Kennedy Center in 1979.
I'm sure that he must have sometimes wished for more--when his plays were rejected or criticized. But, the awards are something of an aside. In his lifetime, he filled his plays with unforgettable characters: Stella, Blanche, Stanley, Hannah, Jim, Laura, Big Daddy. And for those characters and for the interplay of those unforgettable personages upon the stage, Tennessee Williams may be forever known.
Here, in these two volumes, we hear all of the voices come to life once again--with words both poetic and potent--drawn from the pen of Tennessee Williams.