Tennessee Williams

Tennessee WilliamsThomas Lanier Williams was born on March 26, 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi.  He was an American playwright and author with famous works including Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  Williams won a Pulitzer Prize for each of those works, as well as a New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for The Glass Menagerie, three Donaldson Awards, and a Tony.

Williams started college at the University of Missouri, Washington University where he formed a close group of authors.  He transferred to the University of Iowa where he earned a BA in 1938.  After college, he briefly worked for a shoe company before he moved to New Orleans. The city would come to symbolize his true home and act as a muse for many of his later plays. In 1939, Williams changed his first name from Thomas to Tennessee.

Williams’ first hit was The Glass Menagerie.  It originally opened in Chicago in 1944 before moving to New York where it became an instant Broadway hit.  The plot reflected his own family, especially his older, schizophrenic sister, Rose, and mother, Edwina.  Williams was always close to Rose who had a lobotomy in 1943 with disastrous results that left her disabled.

Williams continued his success with A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), The Rose Tattoo (1951), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), and many more plays within those years and after.  Along with his plays, Williams successfully adapted his plays to the silver screen for ten movie versions of his plays.  Of these adaptations, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) are the most famous.


The Paris Review
The Kennedy Center
The Poetry Foundation 

Critical reception


Pulitzer Prize
Streetcar Named Desire (1948)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955)

New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award
The Glass Menagerie (1945)

Three Donaldson Awards

Tony Award


Streetcar Named Desire
“Tennessee Williams has brought us a superb drama, “A Streetcar Named Desire,” which was acted at the Ethel Barrymore last evening. And Jessica Tandy gives a superb performance as a rueful heroine whose misery Mr. Williams is tenderly recording. This must be one of the most perfect marriages of acting and playwriting. For the acting and playwriting are perfectly blended in a limpid performance, and it is impossible to tell where Miss Tandy begins to give form and warmth to the mood Mr. Williams has created.” ~ Brooks Atkinson

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is the work of a mature observer of men and women and a gifted craftsman.  To say that it is the drama of people who refuse to face the truth of life is to suggest a whole school of problem dramatists.  But on of its great achievements is the honesty and simplicity of the craftsmanship.  It seems not to have been written.  It is the quintessence of life.” ~ Brooks Atkinson


New York Times Theater Reviews

Selected excerpts

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955)

What is the smell in this room? Don’t you notice it, Brick? Don’t you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room?

Yes, sir, I think I do, sir.

Mae, Mae…

There is nothing more powerful.  Is there, Brick?

No, sir. No, sir, there isn’t, an’ nothin’ more obnoxious.

Brick agrees with me.  The odor of mendacity is a powerful and obnoxious odor an’ the stawm hasn’t blown it away from this room yet. You notice it, Gooper?

What, sir?

How about you, Sister Woman? You notice the unpleasant odor of mendacity in this room?

Why, Big Daddy, I don’t even know what that is.

You can smell it. Hell it smells like death!

Taken from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof


On the effects of his plays: 

When I write I don’t aim to shock people, and I’m surprised when I do. But I don’t think that anything that occurs in life should be omitted from art, though the artist should present it in a fashion that is artistic and not ugly. I set out to tell the truth. And sometimes the truth is shocking

On looking back on his life:

I now look back at periods of my life, and I think, Was that really me? Was I doing those things? I don’t feel any continuity in my life. It is as if my life were segments that are separate and do not connect. From one period to another it has all happened behind the curtain of work. And I just peek out from behind the curtain now and then and find myself on totally different terrain.

On Young Writers

If they’re meant to be writers, they will write. There’s nothing that can stop them. It may kill them. They may not be able to stand the terrible indignities, humiliations, privations, shocks that attend the life of an American writer. They may not. Yet they may have some sense of humor about it, and manage to survive.

On New Orleans

“The shock of it against the Puritanism of my nature has given me a subject, a theme, which I have never ceased exploiting”

Taken from The Paris Review and The Poetry Foundation 



Apprentice plays

Major plays


  • The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1950, adapted into a film in 1961)
  • Moise and the World of Reason (1975)

Screenplays and teleplays

Short stories

  • The Vengeance of Nitocris (1928)
  • The Field of Blue Children (1939)
  • The Resemblance Between a Violin Case and a Coffin (1951)
  • Hard Candy: A Book of Stories (1954)
  • Three Players of a Summer Game and Other Stories (1960)
  • The Knightly Quest: a Novella and Four Short Stories (1966)
  • One Arm and Other Stories (1967)
    • “One Arm”
    • “The Malediction”
    • “The Poet”
    • “Chronicle of a Demise”
    • “Desire and the Black Masseur”
    • “Portrait of a Girl in Glass”
    • “The Important Thing”
    • “The Angel in the Alcove”
    • “The Field of Blue Children”
    • “The Night of the Iguana”
    • “The Yellow Bird”
  • Eight Mortal Ladies Possessed: a Book of Stories (1974)
  • Tent Worms (1980)
  • It Happened the day the Sun Rose, and Other Stories (1981)

One-act plays

Williams wrote over 70 one-act plays during his lifetime. The one-acts explored many of the same themes that dominated his longer works. Williams’ major collections are published by New Direction in New York City.


Selected works

  • Gussow, Mel and Holditch, Kenneth, eds. Tennessee Williams, Plays 1937–1955 (Library of America, 2000)

    • Spring Storm
    • Not About Nightingales
    • Battle of Angels
    • I Rise in Flame, Cried the Phoenix
    • From 27 Wagons Full of Cotton (1946)
      • 27 Wagons Full of Cotton
      • The Lady of Larkspur Lotion
      • The Last of My Solid Gold Watches
      • Portrait of a Madonna
      • Auto-da-Fé
      • Lord Byron’s Love Letter
      • This Property Is Condemned
      • The Glass Menagerie
      • A Streetcar Named Desire
      • Summer and Smoke
      • The Rose Tattoo
      • Camino Real
      • From 27 Wagons Full of Cotton (1953)
        • “Something Wild”
        • Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen
        • Something Unspoken
        • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  • Gussow, Mel and Holditch, Kenneth, eds. Tennessee Williams, Plays 1957–1980 (Library of America, 2000)
    • 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 (The Seven Descents of Myrtle)
    • Small Craft Warnings
    • Out Cry
    • Vieux Carré
    • A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur


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