Archival Collections
Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Tennessee Williams papers, 1920-1983 

Williams, Tennessee, 1911-1983.
Phys. Desc: 
160 linear feet (83 manuscript boxes, 1 mapcase (13-4G-13), 119 record storage cartons (library))
Call Number: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Online information

Biographical Note

Thomas Lanier Williams was born on March 26, 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi. His father, Cornelius, a salesman who was largely absent had a bad relationship with Tennessee, the second of his three children. Consequently, Tennessee was raised predominantly by his mother, Edwina, and maternal grandparents. His often strained and disturbed family life became the fodder for many of his plays. After moving to New Orleans in his late 20s, and adopting the name Tennessee, Williams began to write prolifically. His major break came when he won a writing contest and landed an agent, Audrey Wood. Between 1945 to 1947 two plays by Williams establish his place as a major American playwright: The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire . The latter won him a Drama Critics' Award and a Pulitzer Prize. He was awarded a second Pulitzer Prize in 1955 for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof . Williams went on to produce such critical and popular hits as Summer and Smoke (1948), The Rose Tattoo (1951), Camino Real (1953), Sweet Bird of Youth (1959), and The Night of the Iguana (1961). The many works that followed were not understood by the critics of his day and are only now beginning to find and audience. In addition to his two Pulitzers, Williams was nominated four times for the Tony Award for Best Play. He won the Tony only once for The Rose Tattoo (1951). Sometime before 1975 Williams produced a frank memoir in which he openly wrote of his homosexuality, alcoholism/drug addiction, and mental illness. This was published in a very modified form as Memoirs (1975). Williams died in New York City on February 25, 1983. His plays continue to be produced and enjoyed, a testament to his status as one of the greatest of American playwrights.

Scope and Contents

A large and important collection of the correspondence, memoirs, and plays of Tennessee Williams. The collection is especially strong in the later works. Correspondence, manuscripts, photographs, set designs, programs, playbills, and other printed materials and audio recordings. Much of this material came to Columbia in 1994, when the Libraries purchased the contents of Williams' Key West home. The manuscripts include: "Battle of Angels"; "A Streetcar Named Desire"; "The Glass Menagerie"; "Summer and Smoke"; "Now and at the Hour of Our Death"; "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"; "Portrait of a Girl in Glass"; "Hard Candy"; "Orpheus Descending"; "The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone"; "You Touched Me"; "Desire and the Black Masseur"; "The Kingdom of Earth"; "The Rose Tattoo"; "The Eclipse of the Sun"; "A Balcony in Ferrara"; "Camino Real"; "The Gnadiges Fraulein"; "A Kind of Love"; "Broken Glass in the Morning"; "Suddenly Last Summer"; and "Tent Worms." Journals include three notebooks kept from 1941-42, 1944-45, and 1946-47, and a typrscript, with ms. corrections, of "Mes Cahiers Noirs," an unpublished diary ca. 1979. Typewritten manuscript dating from the early 1940s of two unpublished sonnets; the mimeographed script of the David Frost interview, 21 Jan. 1970; letters to, by, or from: Herbert Machiz, Josephine Healy, Paul Bigelow, Audrey Wood (Williams' agent), Cheryl Crawford, David Diamond, James Laughlin, Glenway Wescott, Charles Feldman, Rose Williams, Edwina Williams, Edwin Dakin, Dakin Williams, and Carson McCullers; the manuscript of 9 poems, one of which "Poem for Paul" does not appear to have been published; set designs by Boris Aronson and Jo Mielziner; portrait of Williams by Leon Kroll; portrait of Rose Williams by Florence Van Steeg; portrait of Edwina Williams by Simon Branders. Scripts for Two Character Play ; This Is ; Vieux Carré ; A Lovely Sunday For Creve Coeur ; A House Not Meant To Stand ; Now The Cats With Jewelled Claws ; The Youthfully Departed ; A Cavalier For Milady ; The Red Devil Battery Sign . Also, Tennessee Williams' "Grand" : a teleplay by Trace Johnson. Among the programs is one from The Rose Tattoo's first performance with signatures by Maureen Stapleton, Eli Wallach and others, and a Starless Air program, signed by Williams, Donald Windham, and Margaret Phillips There is an extensive manuscript of his "Memoirs" (over 600 pages). Director's archive for Tigertail. There is one box of books by and about Williams with annotations by Jay Leo Colt.