Arguably America’s greatest playwright, Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams in Mississippi on March 26, 1911. The son of a salesman and a Southern belle, Williams spent his much of his early childhood in the parsonage of his beloved grandfather, an Episcopal priest, but moved with his family to St. Louis, where he attended high school and began to write. Forced by his father to leave the University of Missouri and take a 9-to-5 job in a shoe factory, Williams became more and more determined to be a successful writer. He took classes at Washington University in St. Louis, and wrote his first plays. In 1938 he earned a degree fro the Univeristy of Iowa, where he wrote Spring Storm. Of the theater he remarked: “ know it’s the only thing that saved my life.” By 1939, he had adopted the name of Tennessee Williams, written Battle of Angels (for which he received a Rockefeller Foundation grant) and found his loyal and intrepid agent Audrey Wood. His first great success came in 1944 with his “memory play,” The Glass Menagerie, which opened in Chicago to rave reviews and moved to Broadway, where it won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play of the year. A Streetcar Named Desire, his next play, was a huge success in 1947 and established Williams as the premiere American playwright of his generation. Between 1948 and 1959, he enjoyed a string of Broadway successes, including Summer and Smoke (1948), The Rose Tattoo (1951), Camino Real (1953), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), Orpheus Descending (1957) and Sweet Bird of Youth (1959). By 1959 he had won two Pulitzer Prizes, three New York Drama Critics Circle Awards, and a Tony Award. Movies were made of many of his plays and brought him huge success, renown and wealth. He continued to write voraciously, every day, producing novels, stories, and many new, radical and inventive plays, which did not always meet with the public’s approval, but which are now being revived and re-staged to great acclaim. As well as being astonishingly talented and prolific, Tennessee Williams was a man of considerable personal courage, willing to be open about being a gay man at a time when few were. Tennessee Williams is a cornerstone of New Directions, as we publish everything he wrote in his storied career. He is also our single bestselling author.
“You cannot read these letters without hearing Tennessee speaking them.”
— Edward Albee on Tennessee Williams's The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams Vol. II: 1946-1957
“There may never be a better biography of Tennessee Williams than the one he inadvertently wrote in his letters.”
— David Cuthbert, The Times-Picayune on Tennessee Williams's The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams Vol. II: 1946-1957
“These letters present a self-portrait of a brave man, harassed by his demons, yet always – in those days, with riveting power – trying to bend them to his artistic will.”
— Richard Schickel, The New York Times Book Review on Tennessee Williams's The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams Vol. II: 1946-1957