During his long career Thomas Lanier ‘Tennessee’ Williams iii (26 March 1911 – 25 February 1983) created several of the most iconic characters in American theatre. Though his greatest roles were for women Williams also brought gay relationships into the spotlight – his art, as so often is the case, reflecting his life. Williams mined his dysfunctional family for inspiration, particularly his sister, Rose, whose tragic mental instability influenced the plots of many of his plays. These often bordered (and sometimes plunged into) melodrama, for he wrote with an almost operatic intensity of feeling, but the defining characteristic of his work is the poetry of his language. In this gripping new biography Paul Ibell discusses Williams as a poet as well as a playwright, at the same time revealing the crises of doomed relationships, promiscuous sex, alcohol and prescription drug abuse that gave the writer the raw material for his plays, but which ultimately destroyed him.
Ibell champions the playwright’s later work, whose regular and, he argues, unjustified maulings by critics drove Williams further into decline. Ibell also emphasises the importance of Europe in the imagination of a writer who is best-known for plays set in America’s Southern states; Williams’s love of Italy gleaned from many holidays in the company of his friend Gore Vidal produced a novel, The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone, which shares with his plays the recurring themes of the power of sexual attraction and the tragedy of its loss when beauties (of both sexes) grow old. Essential reading for playgoers, students of literature or the general reader alike, this is an excellent introduction to Williams’s life and work.
‘[a] witty, intelligent, and deeply sympathetic book . . . This biography will interest people who’ve read previous treatments, because few of us have read them all . . . Ibell’s book is full of interesting details . . . And biography is in the details. Plus, the photographs are marvelous.’ – Gay and Lesbian Review
‘Ibell gives refreshing attention to Williams’s global contexts, from his travels in Italy to theater productions in Tokyo and London . . . This succinct yet comprehensive addition to the "Critical Lives" series is illustrated with more than 30 photographs . . . This is a sympathetic study of the playwright. Recommended.’
‘A wonderfully concise – and totally compelling – introduction to the life and work of America's most extraordinary playwright.’ – Gyles Brandreth
Paul Ibell writes and lectures on theatre, and he has previously been Awards Manager for the Olivier Awards. His articles have appeared in The Spectator and New Statesman, and he is the author of Theatreland: A Journey Through the Heart of London’s Theatre (Bloomsbury Continuum, 2009).