Williams, Tennessee (1911–1983) By Hooper, Michael S. D.
At the height of his powers, in the 1940s and 1950s, Tennessee Williams not only courted the commercial success afforded by Broadway, but also sought to develop his own modernist aesthetic: an approach to all aspects of dramatic staging that strived to capture the truth of experience more faithfully than naturalism alone. He termed this his “plastic theater,” embodying as it did the creative malleability normally afforded art and architecture.
Born in Columbus, Mississippi, Thomas Lanier Williams attended the University of Missouri and Washington University in St. Louis before being forced to work briefly in the shoe factory where his father had become a manager during the Depression. This humbling experience helped to shape a social vision—championing the individual against the might of capitalist oppression—and to intensify the romantic appeal of the bohemian artist. In part, it was this appeal that prompted Williams to adopt the name “Tennessee” in 1938.