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Tennessee Williams: First Play

Williams moved back in with his parents in St. Louis. He woke early in the morning to his mother's call of "rise and shine, rise and shine," an extremely annoying habit that he then gave to the matriarch character Amanda Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. He then dusted shoes, typed, and did other odd jobs all day at the factory, returned home for supper, and then locked himself in his room to write until three or four o'clock in the morning.5 Williams was miserable. His unhappiness was increased by the fact that his older sister Rose, who also lived at home, was suffering from schizophrenia and clearly losing her mind.

In 1936, Williams enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis but flunked out of that school, too, just a year later. What kept him going was his writing. Williams was working on several plays, including a full-length play about a pair of sailors who picked up girls (despite the fact that he had never met a sailor and had little personal interest in picking up girls). He was also a member of a local poetry group.

Then, in 1937, things began to look up for Thomas Lanier Williams. He made his theatrical debut. The sailor play, now entitled Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay, was produced in Memphis—the first play ever from the writer eventually known as Tennessee Williams. A St. Louis theater group, the Mummers, produced two more of his plays. Williams then enrolled at the University of Iowa, from which he finally received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1938. The following year, Williams received two major awards in recognition of his writing talent—a $100 prize from the Group Theatre and a $1,000 Rockefeller grant. The new financial security was an enormous help to his writing career. With this support he moved to New Orleans to start a new life. He called himself Tennessee Williams from then on.

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