Tennessee Williams has been described as the most literary of the major dramatists and one of America's best playwrights (Bloom, p.2). He has been praised by critics for his compassionate understanding of the spiritually downtrodden (Gale Databases, p. 8). One of his most famous plays, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, has been described as his most powerful, and deals with the then taboo subject of homosexuality (Becker, p. 2).
Tennessee Williams, whose real name is Thomas Lanier Williams, was born on March 26, 1911 in Columbus Mississippi. His father was a traveling shoe salesman and his mother was the daughter of an Episcopalian clergyman. He had an older sister, Rose, and a younger brother, Walter Dakin. In 1918 the family moved to St. Louis. Tennessee had a very difficult childhood in St. Louis and was the butt of his classmates' jokes because of his small size and lack of athletic ability (Encyclopedia of World Drama, p. 410).
In 1929, he attended the University of Missouri, and won prizes for writing. He failed ROTC because of weakness in his legs caused by childhood diphtheria. His father removed him from the university just before his senior year because of financial reasons and disappointment in his son. His father got him a job in a warehouse of the International Shoe Company. Tennessee worked by day and wrote by night. He suffered a nervous collapse and spent a month in the hospital. He went to his grandparent's home in Memphis, Tennessee to recuperate. In 1935 he attended Washington University with his grandparent's help. There he wrote plays for the Mummers Theatre Group. In 1937 he attended the University of Iowa, studied under Professor E.C. Mabie, and received his B.A. degree. After graduation, he went to New Orleans after learning of his sister's lobotomy (Encyclopedia of World Drama, p. 410).
In 1939, Story Magazine published his play A Field of Blue Children. In that year Tennessee also compiled four one act plays under the title American Blues that included Candles in the Sun, The Fugitive King, Spring Storm, and Not About Nightingales. He submitted them to the Group Theatre's American play contest and won a $100 prize which aroused the interest of New York agent Audrey Wood. She obtained a $1000 grant for him to finish Battle of Angels which was produced in 1940.