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My Friend Tom: The Poet-Playwright Tennessee Williams
     

My Friend Tom: The Poet-Playwright Tennessee Williams

by William Jay Smith, Suzanne Marrs (Foreword by)
 

Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) was one of the most acclaimed, popular, and controversial American playwrights of the twentieth century. The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof are all considered classics of modern theatre, and their characters and situations are iconic representations of the postwar South.

In

Overview

Tennessee Williams (1911-1983) was one of the most acclaimed, popular, and controversial American playwrights of the twentieth century. The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof are all considered classics of modern theatre, and their characters and situations are iconic representations of the postwar South.

In his early years, Williams concentrated his literary talents just as intently on poetry as on plays. Watching over him during this critical learning period was his close friend William Jay Smith (b. 1918), who met Williams in St. Louis as both were embarking on careers as writers. Smith would go on to publish thirteen collections of poetry and an epic sequence of poems describing the forced removal of Indian tribes east of the Mississippi. Both Smith and Williams were affected profoundly by memories of childhood and adolescence in Louisiana and Mississippi, and those experiences shaped their subsequent, mature work once they moved out of the South.

My Friend Tom is at once Smith’s critical analysis of Williams’s early work in poetry and drama, a brief biography of Williams during his development stages as a writer, and a moving meditation on his friend’s career from Williams’s early failures and ambiguities to fame and notoriety. Smith provides in-depth looks at the inception, development, and reception (both commercial and critical) of such early Williams efforts as Candles to the Sun and Fugitive Kind, and later Battle of Angels. Using his own correspondence with Williams, contemporary newspaper accounts, and back issues of long-dissolved literary journals, Smith re-creates Williams’s youthful efforts and traces, wistfully and adroitly, his own rough passage into the world of letters.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Especially valuable for the early chapters on the youthful, pre-fame Williams, but in its entirety a tender portrait that will appeal to scholars and fans alike."---Kirkus Reviews

Library Journal
Smith, who was U.S. poet laureate from 1968 to 1970, met Tennessee Williams when they were both college students at Washington University in St. Louis. Two novice writers from the South—Williams was more interested then in writing poetry—they formed the nucleus of a student writing group. They attended literary events together, critiqued works in process, and discussed the work of the writers who enchanted them. Smith was a witness to Williams's work from the time they were students until Williams's death in 1983. This memoir is somewhat impressionistic, offering the reader a glimpse behind the scenes at various productions of Williams's plays, at readings, as Williams and Smith visit the White House, and at Williams's memorial service. Smith offers literary context and critical analysis without neglecting the deep friendship the two shared, referring to their letters to each other and archival selections from newspapers and literary journals. Some of the book's lighter moments involve the banter and good-natured competition between Williams and his fellow Southern writers, including Eudora Welty and Robert Penn Warren. VERDICT Recommended for fans of Tennessee Williams and for all readers of literary history or memoir.—Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of Northern Alabama Lib., Florence
Kirkus Reviews
Fragmentary but affecting memories of the playwright by former Library of Congress poetry consultant Smith (Up the Hill and Down, 2003, etc.). They met in 1935 at Washington University in St. Louis, where Williams, Smith and Clark Mills were the only male students in the Poetry Club. Williams thought of himself primarily as a poet in those days, although he had already written some one-act dramas. His first full-length plays were presented in 1937 by an amateur theatrical group, the Mummers. Smith, who attended both, provides appreciative descriptions of Candles to the Sun and Fugitive Kind, which demonstrated that Williams' poetic gifts were best served in the theater. The adequate but unexciting verses Smith quotes illustrate the same point, but Williams continued to write poetry throughout his life. The author movingly captures the importance of poetry to Williams in his account of the disastrous 1940 Boston premiere of Battle of Angels, after which the distraught playwright asked his friend to read John Donne aloud to ease his despair. Smith's recollections of seeing The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire are less interesting, mostly because the plays have been written about so much, but the author's affection for his troubled friend is evident even in later chapters that show Williams making public appearances visibly under the influence of drink and drugs. Smith suggests that Williams never really got over the death of his companion Frank Merlo. The author has a knack for selecting astute, little-known critical evaluations of Williams from such unlikely sources as Kenneth Tynan and John Simon (both uncharacteristically appreciative); he also uncovers an intriguing exchange between Williams and Yukio Mishima, who agreed that Southern and Japanese literature had strong affinities. There's nothing revelatory in these slightly scattered reminiscences, but they flesh out our knowledge of Williams with a warmly personal touch. Especially valuable for the early chapters on the youthful, pre-fame Williams, but in its entirety a tender portrait that will appeal to scholars and fans alike.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781617031755
Publisher:
University Press of Mississippi
Publication date:
02/01/2012
Pages:
192
Sales rank:
948,217
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author


William Jay Smith, Cummington, Massachusetts, and Paris, France, served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1968 to 1970 and is the author of thirteen volumes of poetry and two memoirs, Army Brat and Dancing in the Garden.

Suzanne Marrs, Jackson, Mississippi, is professor of English at Millsaps College. She is the author of Eudora Welty: A Biography and One Writer’s Imagination: The Fiction of Eudora Welty, and she is a recipient of the Phoenix Award for Distinguished Welty Scholarship.

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