The intricate world of Tennessee Williams

Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams was a prolific and extraordinarily influential playwright and author who began developing his storytelling talents at the tender age of 12. He achieved spectacular success early in his career and was the recipient of a number of top awards in dramatic arts including Pulitzers, Tonys, New York Drama Critics' Circle award, and even the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His large body of work continues to bring to life the most fully-developed, realistic and powerful characters ever created in modern theatre.

Tennessee Williams’ work offers a unique and compelling view on the nature of family, society and relationships. We offer a few fascinating facts about his life, work and legacy:

  1. After graduating from the University of Iowa, Williams received a $100 prize from the Group Theatre and a $1,000 Rockefeller Grant. The awards prompted his move to New Orleans, where he changed his name to Tennessee and fully embraced his life as an artist.

  2. Williams had a difficult and often traumatic relationship with his family. After contracting diphtheria at age 5, he spent nearly two years bedridden and isolated from the outside world by both his illness and his overprotective mother. His father, a shoe salesman, heavy drinker, gambler and brute, took a special interest in taunting his son about his “effeminate qualities.” His source of occasional respite occurred with his beloved grandfather, Walter Dakin, a local Episcopal priest, and his older sister, Rose, who succumbed to schizophrenia and had to be institutionalized at the age of 27.

  3. Many of the characters in his works, including Laura and Amanda Wingfield in "The Glass Menagerie," are based on family members. Williams said of the piece, “'The Glass Menagerie' has for me the peculiar importance of being the first play that I have managed to write without succumbing to the undeniable fascination of violence. It is my first quiet play, and perhaps my last.”

  4. Williams once had a friend named Stanley Kowalski—the same name as a central figure in Williams’ "A Streetcar Named Desire."

  5. The city of New Orleans honors its connection to Tennessee Williams and his work with TWFest which includes literary tours, writing workshops, productions of his work, and a “Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest.”

UC San Diego offers a wide range of literature courses throughout the year. Join highly regarded artist and instructor Reneé Weissenburger in one of her upcoming courses.

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