Tennessee Williams is Born: March 26, 1911

Tennessee Williams
Library of Congress

Tennessee Williams was born on this date in 1911. Although born in Mississippi, he grew up in St. Louis, where his family moved in 1918.

The transition to St. Louis marked a challenging period in Williams’s life, as his family faced financial difficulties and strained relationships. His father, Cornelius Williams, a shoe company executive, was often absent and had a strained relationship with Tennessee, while his mother, Edwina, was overprotective.

In St. Louis, Williams attended Soldan High School and later University City High School, where he began to explore his interest in writing. The city’s urban environment, starkly different from his earlier life in Mississippi, influenced his perspective and later writings. The family’s struggles, including his sister Rose’s mental health issues, deeply affected Williams and would later be reflected in his plays. Despite the hardships, Williams’s time in St. Louis was formative, nurturing his burgeoning talent for storytelling and setting the stage for his future as one of America’s most renowned playwrights.

Williams left St. Louis to attend school at Mizzou, where his real interest in writing began. He had to return to St. Louis, however, to find work so he could continue to follow his dream. 

He completed the “The Glass Menagerie” in 1944 and it became his first real hit. The play is considered a “modern” tragedy because its characters are regular, middle-class people with fairly ordinary, realistic problems. “The Glass Menagerie’s” Wingfield family all have unfulfilled dreams and feel burdened by each other.

Williams followed that dark drama with “The Night of the Iguana,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” He won prestigious awards for those plays, including the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award. 

Williams’ death was something of a modern tragedy itself — he choked on a bottle cap at the age of 71 at his home in New York City.