March 7, 2012 Library Marks Tennessee Williams' Birthday, March 26

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Tennessee Williams’ plays “The Glass Menagerie,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” are regarded as classics of the American stage.

The Library of Congress will celebrate Williams’ 101st birthday with a reading and discussion by William Jay Smith, former Library of Congress Consultant in Poetry and friend of the playwright, at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, March 26 in the Montpelier Room on the sixth floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C.

Sponsored by the Library’s Poetry and Literature Center, the event is free and open to the public. No tickets are needed. A sale and signing of Smith’s 2012 book “My Friend Tom: the Poet-Playwright Tennessee Williams” will follow the talk.

Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams on March 26, 1911, in Columbus, Miss. When Williams was young, the family relocated to St. Louis, Mo., where Williams’ father worked as a traveling salesman, leaving Williams’ mother to raise three children mostly on her own. As an adult, Williams would recall the conflicts of this early family life often in his writing.

Williams started his higher education at the University of Missouri, but he left school at the behest of his father and took a position as a clerk for a shoe company. Williams turned to writing as a method of dealing with what became a dark period in his life. He returned to school at the University of Iowa and graduated in 1938.

After graduating, he continued to write and won a contest, which brought him to the attention of an agent, Audrey Wood, who helped him obtain his first position as a screenwriter for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Hollywood. In 1945, “The Glass Menagerie” opened on Broadway to great success. Two years later, “A Streetcar Named Desire” opened, earning him a Pulitzer Prize. In 1955, he wrote another masterpiece, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and collected a second Pulitzer Prize.

Smith’s book “My Friend Tom: the Poet-Playwright Tennessee Williams” is part critical analysis of Williams’ early work, part biography of Williams and part memoir of his friendship with the playwright.

Smith was born in Louisiana in 1918 but grew up in St. Louis, Mo. He earned a bachelor’s and a master’s from Washington University in St. Louis. He is the author of more than 20 books. Besides his collections of poetry, he is particularly noted for his translations of French, Hungarian, Dutch and Brazilian poetry. Smith served as the Library of Congress Consultant in Poetry from 1968 to 1970. He taught at Williams College, Columbia University and Hollins University.

The Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress fosters and enhances the public’s appreciation of literature. The center administers the endowed poetry chair (the U.S. Poet Laureate), and coordinates an annual literary season of poetry, fiction and drama readings, performances, lectures and symposia, sponsored by the Library’s Gertrude Clarke Whittall Poetry and Literature Fund and the Huntington Fund. For more information, visit


PR 12-050
ISSN 0731-3527