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Tennessee Williams Books

The Plays of Tennessee Williams

Find yourself an anthology, read his plays separately, do whatever you need to do—just read them. The plays' lyrical quality and arresting portraits of human nature are what made Tennessee Williams one of the titans of American theater.

Tennessee Williams, Memoirs (1975)

Williams admitted quite frankly that he wrote this memoir in his sixties when he was broke and needed the money. He also believed he would be dead before it was published, which lends a delightfully confessional quality to the book. This is Tennessee Williams in his own words, and they sure are fun to read.

This biography focuses on the first half of Williams's life, and what an interesting life it was. This excellent book looks at the influences that shaped the playwright and his work, rather than at the work itself. From the dysfunctional characters of his immediate family to his Southern upbringing, it's easy to see how the life of the young Tom contributed to his later works.

Albert J. Devlin and Nancy M. Tischler eds., The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams Volume II, 1945-1957 (2004)

This book consists of a collection of letters from the most productive period of Williams's life. The mercurial Williams is almost always most compelling in his own words, and his correspondence with friends and colleagues is a window into the playwright's immense creativity, self-doubt, and capacity for self-destruction.

Donald Spoto, The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams (1985)

This unauthorized biography was written just two years after the playwright's sudden death. Celebrity biographer Spoto explores the unsavory characters and unhealthy behavior that marked the final years of Williams's life. His portrayal of the playwright's crushing self-doubt and insecurity is painful to read.

Five O'Clock Angel: Letters of Tennessee Williams to Maria St. Just, 1948-1982 (1990)

Williams met Maria St. Just, an actress and dancer, at a party in London after World War II. Their friendship lasted thirty years, and Williams based the character of Maggie in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof on St. Just. The letters collected here show a softer, more personal side of the playwright. The preface to the collection is written by Elia Kazan, who directed several film adaptations of Williams's work.

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