Thomas Lanier Williams—later known as Tennessee—is born in Columbus, Mississippi. He is the second child of Cornelius Williams and Edwina Dakin Williams, both descendants of well-to-do Southern families.
Five-year-old Williams contracts diphtheria. He nearly dies, and his legs remain paralyzed for nearly two years.
The Williams family moves to St. Louis, Missouri. A year later, their third and last child, Williams's younger brother Dakin, is born.
Sixteen-year-old Williams enters a writing contest in The Smart Set magazine and wins third place, and a prize of $5, for his essay "Can A Good Wife Be a Good Sport?" It is his entry into the literary world.
Williams enters the University of Missouri, the first of three colleges he attends in his university career. In college he is given the nickname "Tennessee," his father's home state, for his thick Southern drawl.
At his father's insistence, Williams withdraws from university and takes a job at the Universal Shoe Company, his father's employer. He works for the shoe company for about six years. During that time Williams enrolls at Washington University in St. Louis, but then drops out again.
Williams enrolls at the University of Iowa. He makes his dramatic debut with the production of Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay in Memphis. He follows that up with the plays Candles to the Sun and The Fugitive Kind, both produced by the Mummers of St. Louis. Also this year, Williams's older sister Rose is hospitalized for schizophrenia.
Williams graduates from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor of Arts degree.
To support his playwriting, Williams receives a $100 prize from the Group Theatre and a $1,000 Rockefeller Grant. He moves to New Orleans and changes his name to Tennessee.
His play Battle of Angels is produced in Boston and New York City.
Williams moves to New York City and spends most of the year supporting himself with odd jobs, such as bellhop, elevator operator, and movie usher.
In an attempt to cure her daughter's schizophrenia, Edwina Dakin Williams volunteers Rose for one of the first lobotomies performed in the United States. As a result of the operation, Rose is stuck in a permanent state of semi-consciousness. Williams resents his parents for the rest of his life for allowing her to have the experimental operation.
At the same time, Williams takes a job as a screenwriter for MGM Studios in Los Angeles. They reject the script he produces but give him the rights to use the work as he pleases. He adapts it into a stage play entitled The Glass Menagerie.
The Glass Menagerie—a play about an overbearing Southern mother, her emotionally fragile daughter, and her resentful son—premieres in Chicago to positive critical reception. Three months later it opens in New York and receives the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play.
Williams starts a romantic relationship with Frank Merlo, his secretary. On 3 December, A Streetcar Named Desire opens on Broadway, starring Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski and Jessica Tandy as fluttery, fragile Blanche Dubois. The play earns Williams a Pulitzer Prize and turns him into a star of the theater world.
The play Summer and Smoke opens on Broadway.
The film version of A Streetcar Named Desire premieres, starring all of the original Broadway cast members except for Jessica Tandy, who is replaced by the actress Vivien Leigh. The movie is a hit and earns Academy Awards for all of the main actors, except Marlon Brando.
The Rose Tattoo opens on Broadway. Williams wins the Tony Award for Best Play.
Camino Real opens on Broadway. It is a critical flop and runs for just sixty performances, but Williams considers it one of his best works.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opens on Broadway. It is a hit and earns Williams another Pulitzer and Tony.
Williams writes the screenplay for Baby Doll, a movie about an underage bride whose husband has promised her father that she will remain a virgin until the age of twenty. Time magazine calls it "just possibly the dirtiest American-made motion picture that has ever been legally exhibited."31
On 21 March, Williams's play Orpheus Descending opens on Broadway and runs for just sixty-eight performances. Williams falls into a depression following the play's poor reviews and undergoes psychoanalysis. After starting therapy, he writes the one-act play Suddenly Last Summer, about a woman who goes insane after witnessing her cousin be brutally murdered because he is homosexual.
Sweet Bird of Youth opens on Broadway.
Period of Adjustment opens on Broadway.
The Night of the Iguana opens on Broadway. Williams wins another Tony Award for Best Play. The play turns out to be Williams's last critical success for a decade.
On 16 January, Williams's play The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore opens on Broadway. Later that year, his longtime partner Frank Merlo dies of lung cancer. Williams falls into a depression that lasts for years.
The Seven Descents of Myrtle opens on Broadway. It is a critical bomb and closes after barely two-dozen performances. This play begins a streak of several poorly-received plays.
Williams suffers a nervous breakdown. His younger brother Dakin has him committed to a psychiatric hospital in St. Louis, where Williams remains until December.
The play Small Craft Warnings opens off Broadway and runs for two hundred performances. It is Williams's first commercial success in a decade, and proves to be the last of his career.
Out Cry opens on Broadway and closes after twelve performances.
Williams publishes Memoirs, in which he writes frankly about his addictions, family crises, and homosexuality.
The Eccentricities of a Nightingale opens on Broadway, but then closes after two-dozen performances.
Vieux Carré opens on Broadway and closes after only six performances.
Clothes for a Summer Hotel opens on Broadway and runs for fourteen performances.
Tennessee Williams chokes to death on a medicine bottle cap in his room at the Hotel Elysée in New York City. He is buried in St. Louis, Missouri.