Tennessee Williams at Washington University


Tennessee Williams and ELIOT MAGAZINE staff, 1937

Tennessee Williams taking questions from students, 1977

Above: Staff of The Eliot, a student literary magazine, 1937. Tennessee Williams is front row far left; A.E. Hotchner is back row, far right.
Below: Tennessee Williams taking questions from students at an informal question and answer session prior to his reading in Graham Chapel, 1977.

Tennessee Williams: Return to the Menagerie at Last

(exerpts from a story in Student Life, September 16, 1977. by Christopher Looby)

What about Washington University, I inquired: that's what I'd really like to hear about. Ah have only the best of memories, he buzzed. But it's said the year you spent here is one you are unwilling to recall, for whatever reasons -- not so, he insisted. A swimming enthusiast, he remembers swimming often in Wilson Pool. He remembers the library with affection -- it was a fine library, he says, and he was permitted the special privilege of wandering back into the stacks, which were at the time closed to the student body.

The thing he remembers most fondly, though, is the poetry club he belonged to.

Have I told you that at Washington University we had a little poetry club? It contained only three male members. The rest were girls, pretty, with families, who owned elegant homes in the county.

The three male poets were, in order of talent, Clark Mills, William Jay Smith, and the author of these memoirs.

He began at Washington University in the night school. He had completed two years at the University of Missouri at Columbia, but his father couldn't afford another year. He went to work for International Shoe [Company], also his father's employer, and eventually enrolled for one summer and the following full year, 1936-37, as a W.U. undergraduate. He left -- I just couldn't learn Greek -- and earned his degree in the drama department at Iowa.

 

... He has refused on numerous occasions, I'm told, to return here, either to speak or read or accept an award or honorary degree. ... One can only guess what soured his attitude toward [the university]. One hint appears in Menagerie:

Amanda: Where are you going?
Tom: I'm going out to smoke.
Amanda: You smoke too much. A pack a day at 15 cents a pack. How much would that amount to in a month? Thirty times 15 is how much Tom? Figure that out and you would be astounded at what you would save, enough to give you a night school course in accounting at Washington University. Just think what a wonderful thing that would be for you son.
Tom: I'd rather smoke.

Thomas Lanier Williams, called Tom by his family, known to the world at Tennessee, may just have been irritated enough by his mother Edwina (after whom Amanda is patterned, he admits) to have spoken the last word on Washington University: "I'd rather smoke."

[Return to 1936-1937 Section]


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