On Writing & Rewriting with Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams


When I write, everything is visual, as brilliantly as if it were on a lit stage. And I talk out the lines as I write.

When I was in Rome, my landlady thought I was demented. She told Frank [Merlo], “Oh, Mr. Williams has lost his mind! He stalks about the room talking out loud!”

Frank said, “Oh, he’s just writing.” She didn’t understand that.


In writing a play, I can get started on the wrong tangent, go off somewhere and then have to make great deletions and begin over, not all the way over, but just back to where I went off on that particular tangent. This is particularly true of the surrealist play that I’m currently writing. I’m dedicating it to the memory of Joe Orton. The Everlasting Ticket, it’s called. It’s about the poet laureate of Three Mile Island. I’m in the third revision of Ticket at the moment.
I do an enormous amount of rewriting. And when I finally let a play go, when I know it’s complete and as it should be, is when I see a production of it that satisfies me. Of course, even when I’m satisfied with a production, the critics are not, usually. In New York, especially. The critics feel I’m basically anarchistic, and dangerous as a writer.

From Wikipedia:
Thomas Lanier “Tennessee” Williams III (March 26, 1911 – February 25, 1983) was an American writer who worked principally as a playwright in the American theater. He also wrote short stories, novels, poetry, essays, screenplays and a volume of memoirs. His professional career lasted from the mid 1930s until his death in 1983, and saw the creation of many plays that are regarded as classics of the American stage. Williams adapted much of his best known work for the cinema.

Williams received virtually all of the top theatrical awards for his works of drama, including several New York Drama Critics’ Circle awards, a Tony Award for best play for The Rose Tattoo (1951) and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for A Streetcar Named Desire (1947) and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955). In 1980 he was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter and is today acknowledged as one of the most accomplished playwrights in the history of English speaking theatre.

Theater scholar Charlotte Canning, of the University of Texas at Austin where Williams’ archives are located, has said, “There is no more influential 20th-century American playwright than Tennessee Williams… He inspired future generations of writers as diverse as Tony Kushner, David Mamet and John Waters, and his plays remain among the most produced in the world.”

One thought on “On Writing & Rewriting with Tennessee Williams

  1. I had the pleasure of directing a TW one act for my college. It was one of my most rewarding experiences. I enjoy diving into his words and characters. He is one of my top inspirations as a writer.

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