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Memoirs (Penguin Modern Classics) [Paperback]

Tennessee Williams , John Waters
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

6 Dec 2007 Penguin Modern Classics
When Memoirs was first published in 1975, it created quite a bit of turbulence in the media--though long self-identified as a gay man, Williams' candour about his love life, sexual encounters, and drug use was found shocking in and of itself, and such revelations by America's greatest living playwright were called "a raw display of private life" by The New York Times Book Review. As it turns out, more than thirty years later, Williams' look back at his life is not quite so scandalous as it once seemed; he recalls his childhood in Mississippi and St. Louis, his prolonged struggle as a "starving artist," the "overnight" success of The Glass Menagerie in 1945, the death of his long-time companion Frank Merlo in 1962, and his confinement to a psychiatric ward in 1969 and subsequent recovery from alcohol and drug addiction, all with the same directness, compassion, and insight that epitomize his plays.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (6 Dec 2007)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0141189290
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141189291
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 209,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tennessee Williams was born in 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi, where his grandfather was the episcopal clergyman. When his father, a travelling salesman, moved with his family to St Louis some years later, both he and his sister found it impossible to settle down to city life. He entered college during the Depression and left after a couple of years to take a clerical job in a shoe company. He stayed there for two years, spending the evenings writing. He entered the University of Iowa in 1938 and completed his course, at the same time holding a large number of part-time jobs of great diversity. He received a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1940 for his play Battle of Angels, and he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 and 1955. Among his many other plays Penguin have published The Glass Menagerie (1944), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Summer and Smoke (1948), The Rose Tattoo (1951), Camino Real (1953), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), Orpheus Descending (1957), Sweet Bird of Youth (1959), Period of Adjustment (1960), The Night of the Iguana (1961), The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore (1963; revised 1964) and Small Craft Warnings (1972). Tennessee Williams died in 1983.

Image reproduced Courtesy of New Directions Pubilshing.



Product Description

About the Author

Tennessee Williams was born in 1911 in Columbus, Mississippi. He received a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1940 for his play Battle of Angels, and he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 and 1955. Among his many other plays Penguin have published The Glass Menagerie (1944), A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), Summer and Smoke (1948), The Rose Tattoo (1951), Camino Real (1953), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955), Orpheus Descending (1957), Sweet Bird of Youth (1959), Period of Adjustment (1960), The Night of the Iguana (1961), The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (1963; revised 1964) and Small Craft Warnings (1972). Tennessee Williams died in 1983.

The films of John Waters - director, screenwriter, and racounteur of kitsch and camp - include: Pink Flamingoes, Serial Mom, Cecil B. Demented, and A Dirty Shame.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you do like Tennessee Williams' plays, you'll probably be interested in reading his Memoirs; in them, he does talk about where his plays' characters come from, about how their publishing and stagings were...and he, personally, is easy recognizable in every paragraph.
What I liked in this book is his honest way of describing himself and his acts; he is a person with a clear conscience, a sharp sensibility, able to see and to point at beauty in other people; and how he accepts himself and everything he feels although he admits his own faults.
However, I expected these pages to contain more about his work, writing, theatre experiences, own feelings...but he rather describes facts, meetings, people...which made its reading a bit cold and not as passionating as I had expected.
In fact, I was interested in the book but, I must say, because I knew it was Tennesse Williams, not for the book's own qualities alone.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellelant. 27 July 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book arrived within the stated time and in excellent condition. I would recommend both the both and the provider.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Egomaniac on the Loose 14 Jan 2013
Format:Paperback
This is an outpouring of rambling self pity that reads in parts as though Williams is sitting in front of a tape recorder after consuming a gallon or so of mint juleps (or whatever writers from the American South drink) and rabbiting on about whatever occurs to him at that moment.

It consists of hundreds of disjointed anecdotes, observations, moans and asides and leaves the impression that Williams was a self-indulgent whiner.

There is no sense of joi de vivre during the happy periods, that is if he was ever happy unless under the influence of drugs and alcohol. There is plenty of bitterness and bile.

He knew lots of artists and actors, such as Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, Paul Bowles, Paul Newman and Marlon Brando, but these are mere blurs in Williams' ramblings.

This book cannot be remotely compared with Vidal's entertaining and witty memoirs "Palimpsest" which portray Williams in a sympathetic light.

Perhaps the best way to get into this book is to accompany it with a bottle of something and go with the flow. Otherwise, don't waste your time.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
60 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dear, Troubled Genius. 30 Jun 2002
By F. Gentile - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book shocked and disappointed many upon its release in 1975. Many were expecting something resembling a predictable literary auto-biography, though, with the authors notorious history and reputation, should have been prepared for what they got instead. This is a fascinating book about and by the man many called genius, the author of "A Streetcar Named Desire", "The Glass Menagerie", "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof", "Sweet Bird Of Youth", "Night Of The Iguana", etc..., and the events in his life that help one better understand just how autobiographical many of his works were. From his upbringing by a tyrannical, indifferent father, who was disappointed in his "sissy" son, his overbearing mother, and his relationship with his lifelong, deepest love, his sister Rose, whose tragic mental illness and lobotomy froze her in time, and perhaps was the most important factor in his troubled life and his creative genius. He was all too human, in his relationships and insecurities. He exposes himself, warts and all, at once being an extremely sensitive, caring human being, who at other times in his life, could turn into an irrational, paranoid, abusive chore to be around. Substance abuse certainly played a major part in his progressive personal and professional demise, and he is brutally honest about that also. He is also unapologetic about the many promiscuous periods of his life, the bluntness of his recounting of sexual escapades usually so humorously told, that it defuses what could have been just vulgar bad taste, to some. His 14 year love relationship with Frank Merlo, who died of cancer in the early 1960's, was, aside from Rose, the most important relationship of his life. Though he and Merlo were estranged towards the end of Merlos life, then had a reconciliation just prior to his death, Tennessee was to never recover from the loss. He also tells about the beginning of his career, and certain pivitol moments in his professional life when, before fame and praise came, it was doubtful that the poor, struggling writer might ever find success. There are also wonderful first hand insights into his contact with the likes of Brando, Anna Magnani, Capote, to name a few. But, admittedly, this book is more about the man than the career. He readily concedes that he is not about to bore himself and some readers to death with chronological descriptions about the fruition of each play. As he says here: "The plays, what about them? If this was a book only about my plays, it would be a very short book. The plays speak for themselves". In fact, there is nothing chronological about this book. It was published about ten years before his tragic death, a period in his life that , after a brilliant career with successive hits, was marked by professional failure, the progression of which was publicly recorded by ,what many perceived to be, unusually aggressive critics who were intent on destroying him personally. If you're looking for a standard auto-bio of a literary career, you may be disappointed. But you also may enjoy, as I did, this wonderfully touching and often humourous book by a sad, troubled, brilliant human being, who battled with his demons his whole life, trying to give a voice to the lonely, the outcast, the misunderstood...the "gentle people", as he referred to them. We are all contradictory, perhaps those the Gods touch with genius more so than others. It's the totality of a life that matters, and the total sum of his life was that he tried his damndest to be a GOOD MAN. An honest man. And, he also created some of the most brilliant works, with some of the most memorable characters, speaking some of the most beautiful words, in the history of theater. Don't judge dear Tennessee too harshly.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Act of Defiance by a Great Gay Author 8 Dec 2006
By Everett E. Day - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you are looking for a well organized overview of TW's life and career, look somewhere else. For someone truly interested in Tennessee Williams, I would suggest first reading a biography of him, and if you are still interested, read this to find out what made this man tick, what made this man get out of bed each day and write, and what a (....) guy he was. This is a nitty-gritty, confessional look inward at the personal aspects and thoughts of the life of a very talented writer.
I am sure what shocked his public when it was published in 1975 was his frank description of his love life and sexual affairs. For Ernest Hemingway it was okay to describe his love life because he was straight, but for a gay man it was (and still largely is) expected to be kept discreetly sub-rosa. But Tennessee was not ashamed of his nature and not ashamed of his life and in that way this memoir (and his life itself) is an act of cultural defiance. It pours out in a fairly disjointed stream of recollections. To be honest, it reads like a rough-draft that needs a lot of editing and filling in. But all-in-all, the inherent drama, passion and thirst for life itself jump out of the page and carry one through to the end and you can't help but be touched by his humanity and his passion and his drive to express himself through his art.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An American Jewel 26 Dec 2006
By Richard Coeur de Lion - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I think "badges of honor" (from a previous review) misses the mark. "Badges of dis-honor" would be closer to the truth. I think Williams' extremely destructive drug abuse and alcoholism are obvious escape hatches - escapes from his inner deamons, his possible self-loathing, and certainly an attempt to reconcile the loneliness that each artist has to contend with. The same isolation and deamons that Williams faced nearly destroyed Michelangelo - and they did kill Virginia Woolf, Francis Bacon, and Oscar Wilde. I still think "Iguana" and "Streetcar" are among the finest literature in the American canon, while "Suddenly Last Summer" is among the most compelling psychological (if not philosophical) horror stories ever written. In fact, it's worthy of Poe. Tennessee Williams can be difficult and disturbing, because he NEVER lies to us. Every one of his works renders him defenseless - and by extension our defenses are stipped bare as well. Only the greatest authors, artists, and poets are able to do this. No thoughtful person is quite the same after delving into the work of Tennessee Williams. I think that's an awesome power to possess - and William's never abuses it. Instead, he saved the abuse for himself. I'm still coming to terms with this.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a life 3 Jun 2008
By Jeff Stuckey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If you like memoirs, written by great writers about themselves, you'll love this one.

I was born in 1970, this was written not long after--my sense of being is way different than this guy. He wrote this himself in his later years, meanders here and there, but more in the end. Charming all the way thru.

I'd heard that maybe this was a little racy, but again--only in the beginning. And even then, not nearly what you see when you tune into any television station. Really, just a glimpse into what gay men of his era went through (a good glimpse).

When I realized what gold I had in my hands I slowed way down with this one--he writes in a way that makes you want to savor. It's a whole different time, you hafta listen.

Thank you older gay men, you paved the way.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At first, shocking, but then... 9 July 2010
By Elisabeth Hallett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
While my daughter was performing in Glass Menagerie, I picked up a copy of Tennessee Williams's Memoirs hoping to learn how much of his sister Rose was portrayed in Laura. That was soon answered by his comment that "Laura of Menagerie was like Miss Rose only in her inescapable 'difference,' which that old female bobcat Amanda would not believe existed." The most lasting impression from this hurly-burly book is the tenderness, almost reverence, of his feeling for Rose. Even his redoubtable mother is treated with gently barbed irony.
Yes, there is an incredible amount of sex (seven times in one night? A man with a serious heart condition?) but the tenderness comes through more and more until you just want to take care of this troubled guy, who poignantly remarks that while he often announced he was about to fall down, hardly anyone ever caught him.
Revealing, sometimes scathing portraits of theater people and others enliven the book; his loving account of Anna Magnani for example is a delight. Hemingway, he writes, "struck me as a gentleman who seemed to have a very touchingly shy quality about him."
Eccentric and informal in style, honest and probing for still deeper truths about his life and work, Memoirs leaves me with the sense that I have actually met and come to care for a rare human being.
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