Mirror, Mirror: The American Family in the Twentieth Century

Tennessee Williams  (1911-1983)

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof


  • Born Thomas Lanier Williams in 1911 in Columbia, Mississippi, grew up in St. Louis, Missouri; his father, a traveling salesman, his mother, a minister's daughter.
  • The second of three children, grew up very close to his mother, sister, and maternal grandparents, very alienated from his father.
  • Began to write when his mother gave him a typewriter for his eleventh birthday and continued to do so with only intermittent lapses for the rest of his life.
  • Attended the University of Missouri and Washington University in St. Louis; graduated from the University of Iowa in 1938.
  • Wandered around the country for several years after graduation doing odd jobs and writing short plays.
  • Although his life often affected by personal disarray, mental stress, and drug addiction, enjoyed long-terms relationships with male companions and remained productive.
  • Choked to death on the cap from a bottle of pills  in his suite at the Hotel Elysee in New York City.


  • Spent six months in 1943 as a contract writer for MGM, in which position he wrote a screenplay, The Gentleman Caller, which he later turned into The Glass Menagerie.
  • The Glass Menagerie (1945) established Williams as an important playwright; wrote a long play every year or two between then and the end of his life.
  • A prolific writer, wrote more than seventy plays, as well as screenplays, short stories, novels, and poetry.
  • Won New York Drama Critics Circle awards for The Glass Menagerie (1945), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), and Night of the Iguana (1961). Streetcar and Cat also won Pulitzer prizes.
  • Recurrent character in Williams's plays, the outsider or fugitive whose vision of the world and its realities parallels Williams's own vision.

Major Plays

Note: plays listed in order of composition, dates indicate date of first production

Cairo, Shanghai, Bombay! (comedy), 1935
Spring Song, 1938
Battle of Angels, 1945
The Glass Menagerie, 1944
27 Wagons Full of Cotton, 1944 (published in 1953 in 27 Wagons Full of Cotton and Other One-Act
    Plays by Tennessee Williams)
Summer and Smoke
, 1947
A Streetcar Named Desire
, 1947
Camino Real: A Play
, first production, 1953
The Rose Tattoo
, 1951
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
, 1955
Orpheus Descending: A Play in Three Acts
, 1957
Suddenly Last Summer
, 1958
Sweet Bird of Youth
, 1959
Period of Adjustment; or High Point Over a Cavern: A Serious Comedy
, 1959
The Night of the Iguana
, 1960
The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore
, 1962
Slapstick Tragedy
, 1966
Kingdom of Earth: The Seven Descents of Myrtle, 1968
Out Cry
, 1969
In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel
, 1969
Small Craft Warnings
, 1972
The Red Devil Battery Sign
, 1975
Vieux Carre
, 1977
Clothes for a Summer Hotel: A Ghost Play
, 1980
Something Cloudy, Something Clear
, 1981

Critical Sources and Reviews

  • Biographical and critical information in the following Gale publications: Contemporary Authors, Volumes 5-8, Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series, Volumes 8, 54 and 74; and Contemporary Literary Criticism, 1-2, 5, 7-8, 11, 15, 19, 30, 39, and 45.  Gale Literary Database (Contemporary Authors Online and Contemporary Literary Criticism Select) can be accessed through a subscribing library at www.galenet.com. Contemporary Literary Criticism Select (i.e., online) now contains the full text of critical articles relating to an author.

    Other Gale publications that include Williams materials include Authors in the News, Volumes 1 and 2; Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, 1941-1968; Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, Volumes 4 and 14; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 7: Twentieth Century American Dramatists; Dictionary of Twentieth Century Culture, Volume 1; Drama Criticism, Volume 11; Major Twentieth-Century Writers. 5 vols.

  • Print resources:
    Eric Bentley, What is Theatre?, 1968.
    C. W. E. Bigsby, A Critical Introduction to Twentieth Century American Drama, 3 vols., 1985.
    Robert Brustein, Seasons of Discontent: Dramatic Opinions 1959-1965, 1965.
    Ruby Cohn, Dialogue in American Drama, 1971. See also Cohn's excellent essay survey on Williams's career and criticism in Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia of American Literature.
    George W. Crandall, The Critical Response to Tennessee Williams, 1996.
    Frances Donahue, The Dramatic World of Tennessee Williams, 1964.
    John Gassner, Theatre at the Crossroads: Plays and Playwrights of the Mid-Century American Stage, and  Directions in Modern Theatre and Drama.|
    Richard Gilman, Common and Uncommon Masks: Writings on the Theatre, 1961-1970, 1971.
    Alice Griffin, Understanding Tennessee Williams, 1995.
    Walter Kerr, The Theatre in Spite of Itself, 1063
    Philip C. Kolin, ed. Tennessee Williams: A Guide to Research and Performance.
    Richard F. Leavitt, ed. The World of Tennessee Williams, 1978.
    Allan Lewis, American Plays and Playwrights of the Contemporary Theatre, 1965.
    Frederick Lumley, New Trends in Twentieth Century Drama, 1967.
    Robert A. Martin, ed. Critical Essays on Tennessee Williams, 1997.
    Thomas E. Porter, Myth and Modern American Drama, 1969.
    Marian Price, "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof: The Uneasy Marriage pf Success and Idealism," Modern Drama, 38, No. 3 (Fall 1995):324-35.
    Harry Rasky, Tennessee Williams: A Portrait in Laughter and Lamentation, 1986.
    Donald Spoto, The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams, 1985.
    J. L. Stylan, Modern Drama in Theory and Practice, Volume 1, 1981.
    Gerald Weales, American Drama Since World War II. Harcourt, 1962.
    Nancy O. Wilhelmi, "The Language of Power and Powerlessness: Verbal Combat in the Plays of Tennessee Williams," in The Text Beyond: Essays in Literary Linguistics, ed. Cynthia Goldin Bernstein, 1994.
    Dakin Williams and Shepherd Mead, Tennessee Williams: An Intimate Biography, 1983.
    Edwina Dakin Williams, Remember Me to Tom, 1963.
    Tennessee Williams, Memoirs, 1975.
    New York Post
    interviews, April 21-May 4, 1958.
  • Obituaries:
    • Chicago Tribune; February 26, 27, 1983
    • Los Angeles Times; February 26, 1983
    • New York Times, February 26, 1983
    • Newsweek, March 7, 1983
    • Time, March 7, 1983
    • London Times, February 26, 1983
    • Washington Post, February 26, 1983
  • The following print resources are available online through Contemporary Literary Criticism Select (can be accessed through a subscribing library at www.galenet.com):
    William Becker, A review of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in The Hudson Review, Vol. 8, No. 2. Summer 1955, 268-72.

     Foster Hirsch, "The Man and His Work" in A Portrait of the Artist: The Plays of Tennessee Williams, 1979, 3-17.

     Susan Neal Mayberry, "A Study of Illusion and the Grotesque in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, in Southern Studies, Vol. 22, No. 4, Winter 1983, 359-365.

    Delma Eugene Presley, "The Search for Hope in the Plays of Tennessee Williams," in Mississippi Quarterly, Vol 25, 1971, 31-43.

    Georges-Michel Sarote, "Fluidity and Differentiation in Three Plays by Tennesse Williams: The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar named Desire, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in Staging Difference: Cultural Pluralism in American Theater and Drama, ed. Marc Maufort, 1995,
  • Online resources:

Retired Discussion Series

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