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by Tennessee Williams
Book Review by Steven LaVigne
© February 26, 2007, Steven LaVigne

When the late American playwright Tennessee Williams published his “Memoirs” in 1975, the Stonewall Revolution was less than a decade old, and reviews were merciless, because Williams wrote so openly about his sex life.

I read “Memoirs” after recently coming out, and found them no different from much of the gay literature I was reading at the time. Williams passed on less than a decade after its publication.

Now reissued by New Directions, and with an introduction by film director John Waters, Tennessee Williams’ “Memoirs” are a pleasure to rediscover.

There are the commentaries on his sexual encounters, including his relationship with the loves of his life, Frank Merlo and his sister, Rose, who was the model for the character Laura in “The Glass Menagerie”.

One thing early reviewers ignored, which must be savored, is Williams’ writing style, which was always lyrical. He brings that same poetic style to his life story.

Williams recognized his demons and faced them while composing this book. If the stream of consciousness are, at times, disjointed, it is forgivable.

The strongest theme which emerges from “Memoirs” are his feelings toward those whom he most admired, especially the writer Carson McCullers. No one wrote so refreshingly about the exploits about Anna Magnani, who would win the Oscar for her performance in Williams’ “The Rose Tattoo.”

He writes beautifully of affection for and appreciation of the gifted Maureen Stapleton, Marlon Brando, and Tallulah Bankhead, and delights us with dishy items on Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, and Elizabeth Taylor. His appreciation for Elia Kazan and the opportunity of seeing the value his work retained in his lifetime are also reflected upon.

Williams place in the world theatre is assured, and sadly, he doesn’t dig deeper into some of the topics addressed. In his afterword, Allean Hale clarifies some of the book’s personae, but he might have commented on “Not about Nightengales,” the early prison drama discovered in the late 1990s.

Tennessee Williams’ “Memoirs” have improved with age.

by Tennessee Williams
New Directions, 368 pages, $15.95, ISBN: 0811216691

© 2007, Steven LaVigne

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