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by Tennessee Williams, Margaret Bradham Thornton (Editor)

Tennessee Williams’s Notebooks, here published for the first time, presents by turns a passionate, whimsical, movingly lyrical, self-reflective, and completely uninhibited record of the life of this monumental American genius from 1936 to 1981, the year of his death. In these pages Williams (1911-1981) wrote out his most private thoughts as well as


Tennessee Williams’s Notebooks, here published for the first time, presents by turns a passionate, whimsical, movingly lyrical, self-reflective, and completely uninhibited record of the life of this monumental American genius from 1936 to 1981, the year of his death. In these pages Williams (1911-1981) wrote out his most private thoughts as well as sketches of plays, poems, and accounts of his social, professional, and sexual encounters. The notebooks are the repository of Williams’s fears, obsessions, passions, and contradictions, and they form possibly the most spontaneous self-portrait by any writer in American history.
Meticulously edited and annotated by Margaret Thornton, the notebooks follow Williams’ growth as a writer from his undergraduate days to the publication and production of his most famous plays, from his drug addiction and drunkenness to the heights of his literary accomplishments. At one point, Williams writes, “I feel dull and disinterested in the literary line. Dr. Heller bores me with all his erudite discussion of literature. Writing is just writing! Why all the fuss about it?” This remarkable record of the life of Tennessee Williams is about writing—how his writing came up like a pure, underground stream through the often unhappy chaos of his life to become a memorable and permanent contribution to world literature.

Editorial Reviews

Walter Isaacson
"Margaret Thornton has done something that would have delighted Tennessee Williams. She has served up his revealing notebooks with so rich of a mix of additional material and notations that the result is almost a new literary genre: a mix of diary, biography, autobiography, scrapbooks, and documentary history. It is addictive, and it bares Williams's soul."—Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

Edward Albee

"These notebooks—partial as they are—will help clarify the creative and psychological highs and lows which both sustained and buffeted Tennessee Williams throughout his extraordinary life."—Edward Albee

Allean Hale
"Of the more than one hundred books written about Tennessee Williams since his death, his own book, the Notebooks, is unique. It records the innermost feelings of America's greatest playwright from youth to old age, as jotted down by the playwright himself."—Allean Hale, Krannert Theatre, University of Illinois-Urbana

Philip C. Kolin
"Here we have Tennessee Williams on and about Tennessee Williams, more revealing even than the Letters and sometimes more vulnerable than in the Memoirs. Thornton has supplied a masterfully edited, copiously annotated, and lavishly illustrated edition that is invaluable for scholars and Williams fans worldwide."—Philip C. Kolin, University of Southern Mississippi

Ron Carlson
"A sound and solid record of an artist's intimate mind and heart—and while personal, the Notebooks offer new insight into the cognitive patterns, cultural context, and physical life of one of the twentieth century's most important writers. I was profoundly moved by this privileged glimpse at Tennessee Williams' life and mind."—Ron Carlson, Director of Creative Writing, University of California at Irvine
Brian Parker
"The Notebooks take us on a harrowing journey, and we come to know Williams the person very intimately, in the way he quite pitilessly knew himself. Reading them is like reading Van Gogh's letters or the diary of Nijinsky: the art arises from great pain that elicits pity and terror for the artist and lets us understand the uniqueness of his creations more subtly and intuitively."—Brian Parker, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto

Edmund White
These notes clarify some of the sources and influences, like D. H. Lawrence, Hart Crane, Chekhov and - perhaps surprisingly - the tough guy Hemingway, whom he admired for his “fearless expression of brute nature.” This book gives us a look at the sometimes sad, sometimes shoddy backstage of real life that permitted Williams to create his unforgettable and perfect dramas.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

This magnificent tome is a treasure trove for Williams scholars and fans. Independent scholar Thornton not only tracked down Williams's early short stories and poems but often presents photo reproductions of the original manuscripts. A talented sleuth, Thornton cross-checks journal entries with letters Williams wrote to friends, offers minibiographies of people mentioned in the journals and has found photos of most of the cast of characters at the time they were in touch with Williams. Her detective work is fully one half of this massive book. (Williams's journal entries, from 1936 to 1958 and 1979 to 1981 run on the right-hand pages opposite Thornton's annotations.) As the playwright, according to Thornton, "modulated his tone and style to suit the recipient" of his voluminous correspondence, his journal reveals his authentic voice. These entries primarily showcase the budding artist who was plagued with insecurities, increasing drug dependency and an equally destructive addiction to celebrity, but his loyalty to his work remained so strong that he was still able to write The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Summer and Smoke, The Rose Tattooand Cat on a Hot Tin Roofall between 1945 and 1955—the period that reflects the bulk of these notebooks.. Williams's dramatic life may be familiar to many, but thanks to Thornton's superb scholarship, his interior conflicts, motivations and drive are at last revealed. Photos. (Jan. 30)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Since the age of 24 (excluding the years 1958-79), American playwright Tennessee Williams (1911-83), with pencil and 30 lined notebooks, spoke almost daily "to [him]self about [him]self." In the words of independent scholar Bradham Thornton, editor of this hefty volume, he spoke of "his fears, feelings of social inadequacy, anxieties, loneliness, constant restlessness, and panicky feelings of extinction." The editor does a magnificent job of making the playwright's notebooks readable for a large audience-certainly no small task considering Williams was known to jot part of one journal entry in the dust jacket of a book from his personal library in another town. Making matters worse, Williams seldom dated the entries. A multitude of people passed through Williams's life, some famous (e.g., director Elia Kazan), most not so famous. And Bradham Thornton publishes small photos of nearly every one, as well as important typed and handwritten pages from the notebooks. For every page of Williams's entries, there is a corresponding page of Bradham Thornton's annotations. Readers will come away with a better understanding of how the artist's deepest characteristics gave birth to some of the finest stage plays in the modern American theater. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Charles C. Nash, emeritus, Cottey Coll., Nevada, MO Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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Yale University Press
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6.13(w) x 9.25(h) x 2.44(d)

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By Tennessee Williams

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2006 The University of the South
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-11682-3


Introduction........................ix Chronology..........................xix Abbreviations.......................xxv Editorial Note......................xxvii NOTEBOOKS...........................1 Acknowledgments.....................767 Credits.............................771 Index...............................776

Chapter One

Friday, 6 March 1936

March 6 - Friday - Saw first robin today - two in fact - pains in chest all morning but okay tonite - Went swimming - mailed verse to liberty amateur contest at Miss Flo's suggestion - Now have 4 manuscripts in the mail not counting plays & poems in St. Louis contest - Returned case of empty bottles - collected $1.00 - felt rather stupid all day but will write tomorrow -

Saturday, 7 March - Sunday, 8 March 1936

March 7 - Sat. - Nice day - went swimming in a.m. - Wrote story "Cut Out" - pretty cheap but well-done - feel rather guilty writing such stuff - so far from what I really want to do - I am writing this Sunday morning - pinkish green buds all over the elm outside my window - first buds I have seen -

Monday, 9 March 1936

March 9 - Monday. A pleasant day - drove about city - Saw H.B. and was inspired to write a poem by certain lines in her face - wentswimming - Felt fine all day - Visited Jewel Box with H.B. & M.F. Pansies blooming outdoors in park - Wish I could spend a few days in the country - Mr. Kanter dead - Mr. Wells dying - Mr. Kramer afraid of dying - Me? Damned glad to be alive!

Tuesday, 10 March 1936

March 10 - Tuesday - Life is various - Today I would like to leave off the record - I was sick tonight - attack of nervous heart in short story class - got worked up over Prof. reading my story aloud - Why I don't know - I must learn to control my nerves - didn't last long - I took a pill - still it is always very depressing - Makes you feel cut off from the world - And just at a time when I am so eager to be a part - still - things like this prove one's spirit - ignore it I say - go on as if nothing happened - the only way - besides I'm no longer a coward about it - I was actually not afraid - just embarrassed because I felt my nervous agitation was so obvious - class criticized my story very harshly - Only one girl liked it and she didn't get the point - Prof. Webster seemed pleased with it however and told me to write more soon - But I was disappointed in story and feel discouraged about my whole prospect as a writer - what the hell - I'd better sleep it off like poor Old Sam -

Wednesday, 11 March 1936

March 11 - Weds. Evening closes down and I turn to my journal for lack of anything else to do. Felt remarkably well today - Even swam my usual 15 lengths - But how stupid! Looked thru some old stories and made half hearted effort to straighten out my desk. That's all - Feel as tho my writing is all a lot of trash - except the one story "Gift of an Apple -" Maybe it will turn out to be the same when "Story" sends it back - How I fool myself about my writing! In some way - if not all - I am a perfect idiot! But why worry about that? As Dear says - All passes! Elm blossom all over tree in back yard - foamy red and white blossoms ruddy looking - a pussy willow blooming in our back yard - Moons do not have corners except in early evening - new moons do not rise - Gosh! What a lot of nature-faking I have done in my stories - I am anxious to learn all I can about nature this spring.

Later - Just finished re-writing "This Spring" - Had thought it was no good but reread it this evening and liked it. Rewrote it stream-of-consciousness style - seemed very sucessfull - But tomorrow? Oh well. Tired out but happy. Yes. happy. drank four teaspoons sodium bromide. Now I will rest from my labours and go downstairs.

Later I have read it over again. It seems very lovely. It seems my best. I have taken a sleeping pill as I was feeling terribly nervous. Now better. A cool and beautiful night. Wind. Or is it rain? I will turn out the light and see.

Friday, 13 March 1936

Friday - a.m. Bright day rather cool - preparations for Mother's D.A.R. Tea - Not feeling so well but nothing definitely wrong - Still working on "This Spring" - Gets better - almost final draft - Still no mail - suspense - Ah! Wednesday - Poetry announcements - will be a terrible strain or disappointment - Got "A" on Mansfield paper last night - Parks is a pretty good guy - It didn't deserve such a good grade - Swimming meet this p.m. - Will go over - car at home - May take a drive - now lunch.

Saturday, 14 March 1936

Saturday Night Woke up just now with very strange feeling - stomach I guess - went down and took Epsom Salts - now better - Last night letter from Harriett Monroe accepting Poem "This Hour" and asking to see others - Felt quite elated. But did not cure the "blues" - pretty awful all day - funny - must snap out of it - Rain tonight - Felt so much better walking home in rain - No sense in going on like this - Must forget it that's all - Read new poem by Josephine Johnson in Atlantic - disappointed in it - struck a sour note - about scummy pools, dung, Etc - moon slightly more than half tonite - now a clear sky and wind - oak leaves almost gone - been going gradually last few weeks - wind like torrents of black water - trite. The air is delicious tonight. C'est Tout!

Thursday, 19 March 1936

Thursday Morn - March 19 - Let us not speak of it. This agony. Forget it. Find strength somehow to go on. Work to be done. Feel sometimes as though I could relinquish this life very easily. Last night I saw The Little Theater Play Ode To Liberty. Very amusing. Between acts stood at an open window and saw the revolving electric cross over a Union Ave. church. Same one when I first became ill - that Sat. night last march (an anniversary?) when I walked miles and miles with my heart nearly jumping out of my chest - That cross helped me that night. The cross and the money I gave the street beggar. And finally those new star-shaped leaves. A strange night. But I've had many since then.

Thursday Night Oh my, what blissful exhaustion! I haven't felt quite like this since that night in Cologne or Amsterdam - when the crowds on the street were like cool snow to the cinder of my individual "woe". Over seven years ago. A state in which the damnedest seems to have happened and you can't be any more completely damned - and the tired brain and body has simply got to rest for a while. I am positively limp in every muscle. Feel deliciously warm and fuzzy - Tomorrow? There is no tomorrow! Ah, but there is! And I'll have to face it somehow - And I shall. Peace. Forever peace. No more fighting. I give up the struggle - I take what comes. I will try to be like a dumb cow in my patience. So help me God.

This afternoon Am. Prefaces ret'd "bottle of Brass" with letter saying story was "told" rather than "lived". I quite agree - in part. Also letter from John Rood, long and very amusing - saying try to publish "27 Wagons" in August issue. "Gift Of An Apple" gone to Amer. Pref. Hope it will stick. Goodnight -

Friday, 20 March 1936

Friday Morning - Better - much better - a bright cool windy day - slept soundly - feel like a patient old cow - will finish dressing now and later try to finish my play -

Sunday, 22 March 1936

Sunday A swell day - Went to Holy Communion at St. Michael's Church at Christ Church Cathedral - enjoyed service at the latter - Saw Dick Sharp on service car going down. In afternoon too[k] Marian Collins out for ride. We went to Curtis Wright airport. Charming place. Windy and wide. Had soda in restaurant there. Then home to play cards and long walk. Felt perfectly well all evening. Encouraging - Marian is a rather lovely girl. Sweet and natural with a fund of homely wisdom. Some of that light Irish spirit that I admire so much - Anna Jean!

Tuesday, 24 March 1936

Tuesday - Another piece of good luck yesterday - While I was out swimming lady from Wed. Club called up and told Mother I had been awarded the $25. prize for "Sonnets For The Spring." Will get it at meeting tomorrow. Lovely bright day - Didn't sleep last night - the excitement and spring onions I suppose - but felt well all today - took long walk with Gypsy and finished re-writing my "One Act" - "Moony's Kid Don't Cry" which I will submit to Prof. Webster tomorrow - A little too windy I'm afraid - but I think it would be effective on the stage - Wish I could have a play produced. - Dear Grand and Grandfather sent me $5.00 for a birthday present - Bless them both! I wish I could see them this spring!

Sunday, 29 March 1936

Sunday What a week is behind me! Wednesday received poetry prize. Not as gruelling as I expected. In fact it couldn't have been made any easier for me. No stage. No speech. Just a room full of tired, elegant old ladies, a couple of priests and some very young poets. Lovely sunny place. Nevertheless palpitations for about five minutes. Afterwards tea and talk - nervous but felt okay - A Mrs. Otis Turner talked to me a long time and wants to get me into Writers' Guild. Says Clark Mills belongs. Probably won't be invited and am not sure I would want to belong. I'm hardly well enough for that sort of thing. Or am I? Feel horrible today. Sick yesterday at dentists. Extremely nervous. Didn't sleep hardly at all last night. Horrible now, but will try to pull myself together. Ghastly dinner. Snapped at everyone, even the old man, but then he was particularly awful about the Kramers where I spent last night. Can I go on? Of course - and you will!

Tuesday, 31 March 1936

Tuesday. I've woke up feeling sick the last two mornings - Yesterday completed and mailed (to Story) my short story "Sand" - feel rather pleased with it - about old Mr. & Mrs. Kramer - Don't know why I persist in sending things to Story - They probably quit reading them long ago - Sent letter to Harriet Monroe thanking for accept of "My Love Was Light" and enclosed 3.00 for subscription. Hurt to put out that much money but will be worth it. My last issue of "Story" arrived. That magazine has been deteriorating lately - I believe Foley and Burnett are becoming regular Babbitts - prosperity doesn't agree with literary folk - Dreamed I saw Hauptmann being electrocuted last night - he was extraordinarily calm about it - The real execution is tonight - a horrible thing - Tonight also my short story class - Will probably hear my play read.

Sunday, 5 April 1936

Sunday. Been feeling fine since Tuesday night. Seeing that poor Mrs Gardner such a wreck sort of pulled me together nervously - Forgot about my own misery feeling sorry for her - Went to picture show twice since then and felt no tension -

This afternoon however began to get the jitters again - so I accepted Miss Flo's invitation to come over for the night - Done no work lately. Yesterday drank cup of coffee but could not write anything decent - Started a crazy something about Russian peasants - wanted to write a pastoral story - but of course that is absurd because I know nothing about country life, farming, Etc. Feel hungry for that sort of thing - The quietness of earth -

Read new poems by Clark Mills in Voices, "Variations" - not so hot - also short poem by J. Johnson called "Trapped" - (1935) not very impressive as a poem but implications -

Tuesday, 7 April 1936

Tuesday a.m. - If I could make of my spirit a golden arc to span this trouble!

Another bright windy morning rather cold - The branches are all lacy with young leaves - There are shimmering clouds of dust in the air - blackbirds are creaking - I am hungry for breakfast - I want to write something really fine this week - something strong and undefeated "The golden arch"? - Perhaps -

Wednesday, 15 April 1936

Wednes. (April 15) Went over to go swimming and found pool was closed - perhaps for the season. How ghastly! I can't get along without swimming - at least I don't see how I could as it is my only physical "release". It's a horrible hot afternoon and I have that horrible oppressed feeling that hot weather gives me. This house frightens me again. I feel trapped - shut in. The radio is on - that awful ball-game - it will be going every afternoon now and hearing it makes me sick - I'm too tired to write - Can do nothing - I am disgusted with the story I wrote Saturday - "The Swan" - It seems idiotic to me now - "Sand" was not much better. I wish I could write something decent - strong - but everything about me is weak - and silly - Terrible to feel like this - I have been so well the past two weeks - like a different person - now I guess it's all starting again. Well, I must learn to take things on the chin because nothing will be easy for me - nothing ever has been easy but I am always trying to make things easy, trying to dogde everything hard or disagreeable and the result is that I've just gotten deeper and deeper into this situation - this rather hopeless situation - I hardly dare to say hopeless but in my heart I know very well that it is - I would like to get away somewhere - Thank God I've got that money in the bank - Maybe I'll visit that little girl poet but her latest letter sounded a little trite and affectatious - "little spear points of green" - It might be impossible - Oh, God I'm so miserable & lonely and so afraid of people! This reminds me of how I used to feel that first spring at College - afraid to go out on the street!

Wednesday, 29 April 1936

Wednes - April 29

There is a flaming barrier in front of me - what shall I do? Shall I quiver and quake on this side of it - not daring to make the leap? Or shall I charge straight ahead - accept the challenge - dash through the flames? Maybe they will burn. It is likewise possible that at my very approach, if I approach them bravely, they'll dwindle to ashes. And even if they burn high and hurt me, I may be able to leap high enough to get clear over - and into the sky!

I must remember that my ancestors fought the Indians! No, I must remember that I am a man - when all is said and done - and not a snivelling baby.

Later I have just finished writing "Nirvana" which seemed very beautiful and fine to me during the writing. I have not yet read it over. Perhaps I had better not. Keep this good, satisfied feeling at least until tomorrow. If it is still as good, or nearly as good, as I think it is I will make one more assault on "Story" the invincible Fortress of Foley and Burnett -

Lovely music comes up from the radio - a symphony. Night insects are flying in my open window attracted by the light. The W.U. machine shop hums softly across the car-tracks behind the block. I see people moving in lighted windows. The air is very still and warm.

Friday, 8 May 1936

May 8 - It is a lovely fresh May morning - but I am tortured by thoughts. The last 3 days a steady crescendo - my head aches - I pound the bed with my fists and make horrible faces - Such a helpless, frustrated feeling - and all so silly! Like being scared of my own shadow and that's what it is - I must somehow overcome this idea of defeat - overcome it permanently - completely - or it will drive me mad -

This week-end I am going to see M.L.L. at her country place. Maybe that will help - Something must - If only I could realize I am not 2 persons. I am only one. There is no sense in this division. An enemy inside myself! How absurd!


Excerpted from NOTEBOOKS by Tennessee Williams Copyright © 2006 by The University of the South. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Margaret Bradham Thornton is a writer and independent scholar based in Bedminster, New Jersey.

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