June 3, 2016

Tennessee Williams

Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright, noted chiefly for his classic plays such as, A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) and Sweet Bird of Youth (1959)


  • Full Name: Tennessee Williams
  • Birth Name: Thomas Lanier Williams III
  • Date of Birth: March 26, 1911
  • Place of Birth: Columbus, Mississippi, United States
  • Zodiac Sign: Aries
  • Nationality: American
  • Death: February 25, 1983
  • Place of Death: New York City, New York, United States
  • Epitaph: “The violets in the mountain have broken the rocks.”
  • Cause of Death: Choking
  • Place of Burial: Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri, United States
  • Father: Cornelius Coffin Williams (1879-1957)
  • Mother: Edwina Estelle Dakin Williams (1884-1980)
  • Siblings:
1. Sister- Rose Isabel Williams (1909-1996)
2. Brother- Walter Dakin Williams (1919-2008)
  • Partner: Frank Merlo  (1922–1963)
  • Children: None
  • Alma Mater: Soldan High School, University City High School, University of Iowa, University of Missouri
  • Known for: his distinct variety of emotional realism
  • Criticized for: openly addressing taboo topics in his plays
  • Influences: William Shakespeare (1564 –1616), Emily Dickinson (1830 –1886), August Strindberg (1849 –1912), Arthur Rimbaud (1854 –1891), Anton Chekhov (1860 –1904), James Joyce (1882 –1941), D. H. Lawrence (1885 –1930), Eugene O’Neill (1888 –1953), William Faulkner (1897–1962), Hart Crane (1899 –1932), Ernest Hemingway (1899 –1961), Thomas Wolfe (1900 –1938), and William Inge (1913–1973)
  • Influenced: John Waters (1946), David Mamet (1947), Tony Kushner (1956), and Suzan-Lori Parks (1963)


  1. Group Theatre Prize (1939)
  2. Rockefeller Grant (1939)
  3. Sidney Howard Memorial Award, The Glass Menagerie (1945)
  4. Donaldson Award, The Glass Menagerie (1945)
  5. New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, The Glass Menagerie (1945)
  6. New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, A Streetcar Named Desire (1948)
  7. Donaldson Award, A Streetcar Named Desire (1948)
  8. Pulitzer Prize, A Streetcar Named Desire (1948)
  9. Tony Award, The Rose Tattoo (1952)
  10. Pulitzer Prize, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955)
  11. Tony Award, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955)
  12. New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, The Night of the Iguana (1961)
  13. Tony Award, The Night of the Iguana (1961)
  14. Presidential Medal of Freedom (1980)


“What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it's curved like a road through mountains.” Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

Major Themes

  • Psychological and Spiritual Displacement
  • Loss of Connections
  • Loneliness
  • Self Deception
  • Retrogression into Sexual Hedonism

Notable Works

  • Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay (1937)
  • Candles to the Sun (1937)
  • The Fugitive Kind (1937)
  • Battle of Angels (1940)
  • The Glass Menagerie (1944)
  • A Streetcar Named Desire (1947)
  • Summer and Smoke (1948)
  • The Rose Tattoo (1951)
  • Camino Real (1953)
  • Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955)
  • Baby Doll (1956, screenplay)
  • Orpheus Descending (1957)
  • Sweet Bird of Youth (1959)
  • Period of Adjustment (1960)
  • The Night of the Iguana (1961)
  • The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore (1963)
  • The Seven Descents of Myrtle (1968)
  • Out Cry (1973)
  • The Eccentricities of a Nightingale (1976)
  • Vieux CarrĂ© (1977)
  • Clothes for a Summer Hotel (1980)

Did You Know?

  • Tennessee Williams was the second child of Cornelius Coffin Williams and Edwina Estelle Dakin Williams.
  • His father was an alcoholic travelling shoe salesman.
  • In the year 1939 Williams started using the name Tennessee Williams instead of his given name.
  • Throughout his life Williams remained close to his sister Rose who was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young woman.
  • During her teenage Rose foolishly fell in love with a boy, to whom Williams was attracted as well.
  • His unfavourable childhood and personal experience provided much idea for his theme and character development.
  • Williams was an alcoholic and often sought comfort in pills.
  • Before accepting homosexuality Williams made several attempts to form relationship with women.
  • Soon after A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) opened, Williams lost his confidence in writing and travelled Europe to recover from his loss. During this unproductive period he heavily relied upon alcohol, pills and casual gay sex.
  • Having returned from Europe he re-encountered Frank Merlo, a truck driver, who he met one year back. Later on, the pair fell in love and Merlo moved in with Williams. Merlo cleaned the apartment, cooked all the meals, acted as chauffeur and managed correspondence. Merlo gradually detached Williams from dependence on alcohol, casual sex and pills. As a result, Williams once again found the peace of mind to concentrate in writing.
  • Since Williams couldn’t keep himself aloof from sex and alcoholism, cracks began to develop in their enduring relationship. Consequently, Merlo and Williams separated briefly in 1961 and again in 1962.
  • Shortly after their breakup, Merlo was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer and Williams returned to take care of him until his death.
  • Grief-stricken by Merlo’s demise, William fell into a seven-year period of depression, promiscuous sex, alcohol abuse and drug use. Consequently, his subsequent plays became mediocre and were not even close to the quality of his earlier works. In 1969, he had a nervous breakdown and his brother Dakin had him committed to a mental hospital in St. Louis, where Williams stayed for three months.
  • In 1975 Williams published Memoirs, in which he wrote candidly about his addictions, family crises, and homosexuality.
  • Tennessee Williams was the first American playwright to frankly incorporate the idea of homosexuality in plays when none could even dare to imagine it.


Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams


" Tennessee Williams.” Shmoop. 2016. Shmoop University Inc. 20 May 2016
< http://www.shmoop.com/tennessee-williams/>.

" Tennessee Williams.” Wikipedia. 2016. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. 20 May 2016
< https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennessee_Williams>.

NB: This article was last updated on January 28, 2018
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