"Tennessee Williams" by Ronald Hayman

Tennessee Williams Everyone Else Is an Audience Ronald Hayman

Publication date:
23 Feb 1994
Yale University Press
288 pages: 235 x 156mm
80 b-w illus.

Few playwrights write as much of their lives into every work as did Tennessee Williams, and few had lives that were so obviously theatrical.  Growing up amid abusive alcoholism, genteel posturing, and the incipient madness of his beloved sister, Rose, Williams produced plays in which violence exploded into rape, castration, and even cannibalism, projecting dramatic personal traumas.  In this frank, compelling study, the distinguished biographer and critic Ronald Hayman explores the intersection of biography and art in one of the most exuberantly autobiographical dramatists of the American theater.


By the time he died, in 1983, Williams’ reputation had seriously declined.  More than twenty years of drug and alcohol addiction, coupled with devastating openness about his promiscuous homosexuality, had all but destroyed one of America’s greatest playwrights, and Williams’ new works were increasingly unsuccessful.  In recent years, however, Broadway revivals and amateur productions have testified to his enduring greatness as one of the shapers of the American theater.  The major plays such as The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and A Streetcar Named Desire, never disappeared from American theatrical consciousness.  Their heroes—Tom Wingfield, Brick Pollitt, even Blanch Du Bois—are portraits of the artist as a very troubled man.


Hayman explores the life and writings of Tennessee Williams and shows how they were linked.  More than any previous biographer, he unmasks the compulsive, driven man behind the characters and lays bare the pain that engendered Williams’ violent apocalypses.  Tennessee Williams will change the way lovers of drama experience and understand some of Williams’ finest achievements.   

"Hayman analyzes the work of Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Tennessee Williams in a study that emphasizes the extent to which Williams based his plays on the events of his life. [He] theorizes that the disturbed and violent characters in such plays as The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire and other works were based on the playwright's family and friends, as well as on Williams himself."?Publishers Weekly

"Hayman has done a fine job of chronicling Williams' life and work. He gives us a fond, unblinking look at a man who could not often control his own life but somehow found the strength to help shape American theatre."?West Coast Review of Books, Art & Entertainment

"Tennessee Williams is a biography that repeatedly sheds additional light on the sources of inspiration for some of its subjects greatest plays. . . . Hayman's book has the virtue of being succinct and comprehensive at the same time. . . . His approach is balanced and fair, his fundamental purpose being to illustrate how Williams used his tormented life to create great dramatic art."?Stephen Grecco, World Literature Today