Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams III in 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi. Tennessee Williams was a sickly young man and because of his diphtheria he was bedridden, which at least gave him time to think and read quite a bit. Tennessee Williams was given a typewriter at a young age and this allowed him to begin writing at an early age. His family life, much like that of many of the characters in his most famous plays (Streetcar, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and of course, the quasi- autobiographical Glass Menagerie) was quite troubled. His mother had been born into a privileged Southern that had fallen from grace his father, who worked as a traveling salesman for a shoe company, was abusive and negligent of his ill young son. Tennessee Williams was especially close to his sister, Rose, who suffered from mental illness and was given a crippling failed frontal lobotomy later in life, which caused Tennessee a great deal of pain and stress. One should look for traces of Rose in the character of Laura in “Menagerie”. While away at college (where he only lasted a short time before his father forced him to come back and work at a shoe warehouse) he was given the nickname “Tennessee” because of his accent and it stuck. Tennessee Williams began writing plays but enjoyed little success until after college. Once pays such as Streetcar and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof were hailed by critics, Tennessee became quite successful, winning awards such as the Pultizer Prize. Despite his success, Williams struggled with fame and suffered from alcoholism, drug use, and depression. Even though he had developed a reputation as the next greatest American playwright, Williams also faced challenges because he was gay and was even the victim of gay hate crime in 1979 in Key West where he was beaten. Tennessee Williams died at the age of 71 after a drug-related choking incident and is buried in Mississippi. Many of the problems he faced during his life are played out in a number of his works and knowing the man before reading the plays is rewarding.
Other essays and articles in the Literature Archives related to this topic include : Analysis and Plot Summary of “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams • The Tragic Figure of Laura in The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams