Tennessee Williams

   Tennessee Williams was one of the outstanding American playwrights of the mid-1900's. He was born Thomas Lanier Williams on March 26, 1911, at the home of his mother's parents in Columbus, Mississippi. When he was 7 years old, his father, a traveling salesman, settled the family in St. Louis, Missouri.
   Williams attended school in St. Louis and then began studies at the University of Mis­souri. His father thought that his son was too bookish and impractical and insisted that he go to work. But like Tom, the hero of his play The Glass Menagerie (1945), Williams later escaped from the shoe factory where he worked. He wandered around the country doing odd Jobs and writing poems, stories, and plays. Some of his plays were performed by an amateur group in St. Louis. At about this time he changed his first name to Tennessee.
   Williams graduated from the University of lowa in 1938. A year later he won a playwriting contest sponsored by the Group Theater, one of the leading theatrical companies of that time. One result of the prize was that he became a friend and client of the agent Audrey Wood, who helped him through most of his career.
   Williams' play Battle of'Angels, which he later rewrote as Orpheus Descending (1957), opened in Boston in 1940. It was not a success, but it showed great promise. That promise was fulfilled with his "memory play," The Glass Menagerie. Using characters based on his family and himself, he wrote about the difficulty of being different in a world that expects everyone to be the same.
   When A Streetcar Named Desire was produced in 1947, Williams was recognized as a major playwright. The play won a Pulitzer Prize, as did Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. Among the most important of the many plays that followed are Summer and Smoke (1948), The Rose Tattoo (1951), and Sweet Bird of Youth (1959). His last major success came with The Night of the Iguana (1961), but he continued to write regularly until his death in New York City on February 24, 1983.