Study Guide

Tennessee Williams First Play

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First Play

After being forced out of school, Tennessee moved back into his parents' home in St. Louis. His days consisted of dusting shoes, typing, and doing other odd jobs at the factory. When he returned home for dinner, he'd lock himself in his room write until four o'clock in the morning. 

In short, he was living every young man's dream...

...said no one, ever. Williams was miserable. And to make matters worse, his sister, Rose, was suffering from schizophrenia. 

When it rains, it pours. 

So in 1936, Williams attempted to turn his life around. He enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis but flunked out within the year. 

When it pours, it...pours even more...? 

You get the gist.

The only thing that kept Williams from drowning was his writing. He was a member of a local poetry group, and kept busy by working on several plays. One of these plays was a full-length about a pair of sailors who picked up girls, despite the fact that Williams had never met a sailor and had little interest in picking up girls. 

In 1937, the clouds began to part for Thomas Lanier Williams. The sailor play, now entitled Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay, was produced in Memphis, marking the theatrical debut of 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 in 1938. The following year, he received two major awards in recognition of his writing talent—a $100 prize from the Group Theatre and a $1,000 Rockefeller grant. With money in his pockets, he moved to New Orleans to start a new life. 

We wonder if he ever missed dusting shoes. 

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