Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams on March 26, 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi. His father was a traveling shoe salesman. Williams and the rest of his family lived in the rectory with their grandfather, who was the town’s Episcopal minister. At the age of twelve his family moved to St. Louis, where his father was offered a job at a factory.
The depression hit when Williams was in his twenties, so he was forced to work in the factory to help support his family. Williams worked there for several years along with his father. The combination of hard work by day and long hours of writing by night was too much for William’s health. He had a mental and physical breakdown. After his recovery he took miscellaneous jobs and finally was able to support himself through school. In 1938, he received his B.A. at the University of Iowa. It was while there that he wrote his first play and changed his name. His name change came about because “I had already published a quantity of bad poetry under my real name and wanted to disassociate it from the work that I have written now.” MGM hired him to write a play for them. In 1941 Battle Of Angels failed to draw any attention to him. In 1945 his play The Glass Menagerie was released to rave reviews. Today it is considered one of the finest plays of the modern American theatre, and was later made into a movie starring Kirk Douglas. In 1947 Williams released another play A Streetcar Named Desire, yet again the critics and fans loved it. It was turned into a movie starring Marlon Brando. This movie launched Brando’s career.
A Streetcar Named Desire won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947. He continued to release plays, including Summer and Smoke (1948), The Rose Tattoo (1951), Camino Real (1953) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955) which won Williams another Pulitzer Prize. He continued to write plays after this but none of his later plays were met with the same critical approval. Williams died on Febuary 25, 1983, at a hotel in New York.
Williams was a sexual and religious outcast. He brought violence, spiritual degeneration, and despair to the stage and to film. Through his writings Williams helped to change the conventional stereotype of southern writing.