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Thomas Lanier Williams (March 26, 1911 - February 25, 1983), better known by the pen name Tennessee Williams, was a noted playwright. The nickname "Tennessee" was given to him by schoolmates in St. Louis for his southern accent. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for a Cat on A Hot Tin Roof in 1955 and for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948. Genre critics maintain that Williams writes in the Southern Gothic style.
Tennessee Williams' family was a troubled one, and provided inspiration for much of his writings. His father, Cornelius Williams, was a travelling shoe salesman who grew increasingly abusive as his children grew older. Edwina Williams, Tennessee's mother, was a descendent of genteel southern life, and was somewhat smothering. Dakin Williams, Tennessee's brother, was often favored over Tennessee by their father. Rose Williams, Tennessee's sister, was perhaps the greatest influence on him. She was mentally ill and emotionally disturbed, spending most of her adult life in mental hospitals. Her parents eventually allowed a lobotomy in an effort to treat her. Tennessee never forgave his parents for allowing this. Characters in his plays are often seen to be direct representations of his family members. Laura Wingfeild in The Glass Menagerie is understood to be a model of Rose. Amanda Wingfield in the same play easily can be seen to represent his mother. Many of his characters are autobiographical, including Tom Wingfeild in The Glass Menagerie and Sebastian in Suddenly Last Summer.
In his memoires, the playwright claims he became sexually active as a teenager; his biographer Lyle Leverich maintained this actually occurred later, in his late 20s. His physical and emotional relationship with his secretary, Frank Merlo, lasted from 1947 until Merlo's death from cancer in 1961, and provided the stability during which Williams produced his most enduring works. Merlo was a balance to many of Williams' depressions, especially the fear that like his sister, Rose, he would become insane. The death of his lover drove Williams to to deep decade long depression.
Tennessee Williams was the victim of a gay-bashing in January 1979 in Key West, being beaten by five teenaged boys, but was not seriously injured. The episode was part of a spate of anti-gay violence that had occurred after a local Baptist minister ran an anti-gay newspaper ad. Some of his literary critics spoke ill of the "excesses" present in his work, but these were, for the most part, merely attacks on Williams' sexuality.
Tennessee Williams died after he choked on a bottle cap. However, some (among them is Dakin Williams, his brother) believe he was murdered.
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