Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Knowing Tennessee Williams

Peter Monaghan has a nice piece up on the Chronicle of Higher Education blog. Bearing Witness to a Young Tennessee Williams profiles UPM author William Jay Smith and his new book, My Friend Tom: ThePoet-Playwright Tennessee Williams

My Friend Tom presents a biographical portrait of Tennessee Williams, as told by fellow writer William Jay Smith, a poet who befriended Williams during his early years. The book offers eyewitness accounts of Williams' early productions and surroundings during his younger days.

Monaghan does a good job of pulling out some really interesting facts from his interview with Smith and the book. A few examples: 

On their college years:

At college, however, Williams was a self-consciously short young man struggling to come to terms with his homoerotic desires. His confusion was all the greater due to what Smith calls Williams’s “strong sensual response to girls, who were constantly in his company.” They were, Smith recalls, almost all “bright and pretty” and “spoke quickly and knowledgeably of many modern writers I had never heard of.”

The origin of his moniker, Tennessee:
Thomas “Tom” Lanier Williams, as Smith knew the budding playwright, adopted his famous nom de plume only later, when he decided that since he was submitting some plays to a competition from his grandparents’ home in Memphis, he should sign himself “Tennessee Williams.” Smith writes: “Although Tom later was fond of ascribing the change to a Southern weakness for ‘climbing the family tree’ and to his heritage as a Tennessee pioneer, he really had no idea at the time where the name had come from and where it would take the person that it would come to represent.”

On Williams the writer:
Smith’s admiration for Williams as playwright is not unalloyed—he is, after all, a literary critic, among his many m├ętiers—but he ends his book by writing: “To Tennessee Williams we owe a special debt. In a tragic age, he has transformed loneliness by naming it for us, suffered sordidness with beauty, graced poor hurt lives with love and pity.”

My Friend Tom is now available from UPM.

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