Thomas Lanier Williams III was born on March 26 1911, in Columbus, Mississippi. At the age of five, Williams developed diphtheria and Bright’s disease, which left him housebound and unable to walk for a year and a half. During this time his mother read to him from Dickens and Shakespeare. Williams’ first published story Isolated appeared in the junior high school newspaper in 1924.
In 1929 he entered the University of Missouri, with the intent of studying journalism. However, he was forced to quit after his third year by his father. While working at his shoe company he wrote the short story Stella for Star, which won first prize in the St. Louis Writers’ Guild Contest. He used the name Tennessee for the first time in 1938, on an entry form for a playwriting contest. In 1944, New Direction Publishing included 26 of his poems in Five Young American Poets and The Glass Menagerie opened to excellent reviews in Chicago.
A Streetcar Named Desire – starring Marlon Brando and Jessica Tandy – opened in New York in 1947. It won the Pulitzer Prize and ran for two years. In 1951, The Rose Tattoo won the Tony Award for Best Play and the film adaptation of Streetcar was released. In 1953, after the New York opening of Camino Real was poorly received, he moved to Key West in Florida and began to write Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. The play opened on Broadway in 1955. It too won the Pulitzer. Sweet Bird of Youth opened in 1959 and in that same year a film adaptation of Suddenly Last Summer (with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift) was released. He wrote several plays in the 1960s and 70s, including The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, Kingdom of Earth, In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel, Out Cry and Vieux Carre.
Most were poorly received and closed after limited runs. Clothes for a Summer Hotel opened in 1980, making it the last of his plays to be produced on Broadway during his lifetime. That same year the mayor of the city, Ed Koch, declared 26 March to be Tennessee Williams Day. The last full-length play he completed, A House Not Meant to Stand, opened in Chicago in May of 1982. His last public appearance was in November of that year, when he read at the 92nd Street Y. Williams died on February 24, 1983.