Where I Live: Selected Essays

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New Directions Publishing, 1978 - Essays - 171 pages
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For most of his Broadway plays Tennessee Williams composed an essay, most often for The New York Times, to be published just prior to opening--something to whet the theatergoers' appetites and to get the critics thinking. Many of these were collected in the 1978 volume Where I Live, which is now expanded by noted Williams scholar John S. Bak to include all of Williams' theater essays, biographical pieces, introductions and reviews. This volume also includes a few occasional pieces, program notes, and a discreet selection of juvenilia such as his 1927 essay published in Smart Set, which answers the question "Can a good wife be a good sport?" Wonderful and candid stories abound in these essays--from erudite observations on the theater to veneration for great actresses. In "Five Fiery Ladies" Williams describes his fascinated, deep appreciation of Vivien Leigh, Geraldine Page, Anna Magnani, Katharine Hepburn, and Elizabeth Taylor, all of whom created roles in stage or film versions of his plays. There are two tributes to his great friend Carson McCullers; reviews of Cocteau's film Orpheus and of two novels by Paul Bowles; a portrait of Williams' longtime agent Audrey Wood; a salute to Tallulah Bankhead; a political statement from 1972, "We Are Dissenters Now"; some hilarious stories in response to Elia Kazan's frequent admonition, "Tennessee, Never Talk to An Actress"; and Williams' most moving and astute autobiographical essay, "The Man in the Overstuffed Chair." Theater critic and essayist John Lahr has provided a terrific foreword which sheds further light on Tennessee Williams' writing process, always fueled by Williams' self-deprecating humor and his empathy for life's nonconformists.
 

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Contents

Something Wild
7
On a Streetcar Named Success
15
Questions Without Answers
23
The Human PsycheAlone
35
The Timeless World of a Play
49
The Meaning of The Rose Tattoo
55
Foreword to Camino Real
66
Afterword to Camino Real
68
The Past Present and the Perhaps
81
If the Writing Is Honest
100
Tennessee Williams Presents His POV
114
Five Fiery Ladies
127
T Williamss View of T Bankhead
148
The Pleasures of the Table
165
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About the author (1978)

After O'Neill, Williams is perhaps the best dramatist the United States has yet produced. Born in his grandfather's rectory in Columbus, Mississippi, Williams and his family later moved to St. Louis. There Williams endured many bad years caused by the abuse of his father and his own anguish over his introverted sister, who was later permanently institutionalized. Williams attended the University of Missouri, and, after time out to clerk for a shoe company and for his own mental breakdown, also attended Washington University of St. Louis and the University of Iowa, from which he graduated in 1938. Williams began to write plays in 1935. During 1943 he spent six months as a contract screenwriter for MGM but produced only one script, The Gentleman Caller. When MGM rejected it, Williams turned it into his first major success, The Glass Menagerie (1945). In this intensely autobiographical play, Williams dramatizes the story of Amanda, who dreams of restoring her lost past by finding a gentleman caller for her crippled daughter, and of Amanda's son Tom, who longs to escape from the responsibility of supporting his mother and sister. After The Glass Menagerie,Williams wrote his masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire, (1947), along with a steady stream of other plays, among them such major works as Summer and Smoke(1948), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1954), and Suddenly Last Summer (1958). His plays celebrate the "fugitive kind," the sensitive outcasts whose outsider status allows them to perceive the horror of the world and who often give additional witness to that horror by becoming its victims. Stephen S. Stanton has summed up Williams's "virtues and strengths" as "a genius for portraiture, particularly of women, a sensitive ear for dialogue and the rhythms of natural speech, a comic talent often manifesting itself in "black comedy,' and a genuine theatrical flair exhibited in telling stage effects attained through lighting, costume, music, and movements." After The Night of the Iguana (1961), Williams continued to write profusely---and constantly to revise his work---but it became more difficult to get productions of his plays and, if they were produced, to win critical or popular acclaim for them. Williams won the Pulitzer Prize for drama for A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for these two and for The Glass Menagerie and The Night of the Iguana.

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