Tennessee Williams (1911–1983) is considered one of the greatest American playwrights of the 20th century. The Harvard Theatre Collection began acquiring works by Williams early in his career. Williams himself gave several typescripts in 1963 and bequeathed a significant collection of manuscripts to Harvard upon his death.
The library’s holdings are especially strong in Williams’s later works. The collection contains working drafts for most of Williams’s plays from the 1950s onward: from The Rose Tattoo and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to his final full-length play, In Masks Outrageous and Austere.
There is less material for early plays like The Glass Menagerie, with the exception of a prompt book for the original production of A Streetcar Named Desire. The collection also includes numerous drafts of screenplays, essays, short stories, and poetry; and a sizable collection of family photographs purchased from Williams’s younger brother Dakin.
- Williams’s childhood years are vividly illustrated in four photograph albums, one of which was compiled by his sister Rose.
- Several diaries kept by Williams document his interior life, including his coming to terms with his homosexuality and his struggles with depression and addiction. They start in 1942, before the success of The Glass Menagerie, and continue intermittently to 1981.
- Thousands of pages of drafts reveal Williams’s creative process, including drafts of his best known play, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.
- An extensively revised typescript of The Lingering Hour, one of Williams’s last plays, is the only complete copy available for research. Harvard also holds five fragments ranging in length from three to sixteen pages.
- The New Directions archive contains 25 folders of correspondence between Williams and his publisher, James Laughlin, spanning four decades.
Over the years, Houghton Library has continued to add to these holdings. Recent additions include the papers of Maria St. Just, Williams’s confidante and literary executor. Many other collections include material by or about Williams. For a detailed overview, see our Tennessee Williams research guide.
Accessing These Materials
Access to collection materials is provided through the Houghton Library Reading Room. For more information, see accessing materials at Houghton Library.