Rare Tennessee Williams Story Published
Before his mother became the model for Blanche DuBois of "A Streetcar Named Desire" and his sister the inspiration for Laura Wingfield of "The Glass Menagerie," Tennessee Williams drew upon a college girlfriend - if only in name - to tell a story of desire, drunkenness and regret.
"Crazy Night" is a work of short fiction unseen by the general public until this month's release in the spring issue of The Strand Magazine, a quarterly based in Birmingham, Mich. The story is narrated by a college freshman who confides about his romance with a senior, Anna Jean. Williams, while attending the University of Missouri at Columbia, briefly dated fellow student Anna Jean O'Donnell and wrote poetry about her.
"It ('Crazy Night') seems to have been written when Williams was rather young, probably around the 1930s," said Strand managing editor Andrew Gulli, who has previously unearthed works by Mark Twain, Joseph Heller and Robert Louis Stevenson.
"The funny thing is that Williams in his notebooks and memoirs went into a lot of detail about his love affairs but with Anna Jean he made only a passing mention. Could this be the missing piece of the puzzle?"
Gulli found the story in the University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Center, one of the country's top literary archives.
"Crazy Night" is set on an unnamed campus in the early '30s, after the stock market crash of October 1929 and before the 1933 repeal of Prohibition, when "students graduating or flunking out of college had practically every reason for getting drunk and little or nothing that was fit to drink." The title refers to a ritual at the end of spring term during which students are expected to binge on alcohol and sex, a bacchanal "feverishly gay" on the surface but "really the saddest night of the year."
"There is a theme of disappointment, the old 'mendacity theme' from 'Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,'" Gulli says. "He could show how beneath the cloak of respectability his characters had horrible insecurities and dark secrets. Williams was a master of showing the desperation and need humans have for companionship and was equally skilled at showing how relationships go sour and lead to cynicism."