Carson McCullers and Tennessee Williams

The friendship began as a correspondence. Williams had read McCullers’s novel The Member of the Wedding and wrote to her how much he liked it. In 1946, The Glass Menagerie had finally put Williams on the map. He moved to Nantucket and tried to complete his next play, which would end up being A Streetcar Named Desire. He worked on other pieces as well, things that had been percolating for a couple of years (Summer and Smoke., Camino Real). He had found out that McCullers was a distant cousin of Jordan Massee (a dear friend of Williams at this time), so he wrote to McCullers and asked her to join him on Nantucket. This was quite uncharacteristic of Williams. He was a social man, despite his attacks of nerves and shyness, and while most of his friends were also artists, at work on things, he needed solitude and isolation to concentrate, which is why he could often be so peripatetic. He seemed to work best in temporary (even seedy) lodgings, hotels and beach cottages and YMCAs. So it was a gamble. McCullers was, in her way, weirder than Williams was. A neurotic as well. Years later, Williams wrote a piece on his friendship with Carson McCullers for the Saturday Review of Literature where he described that Nantucket summer. Two writers busy at work. Together. Williams wrote:

[We] worked at opposite ends of a table, she on a dramatization of “The Member of the Wedding” and I on “Summer and Smoke”, and for the first time I found it completely comfortable to work in the same room with another writer. We read each other our day’s work over our after-dinner drinks, and she gave me the heart to continue a play that I feared was hopeless.

When I told her that I thought my creative powers were exhausted, she said to me, wisely and truly, an artist always feels that dread, that terror, when he was completed a work to which his heart has been so totally committed that the finishing of it seems to have finished him too, that what he lives for is gone like yesteryear’s snow.

This entry was posted in writers and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Carson McCullers and Tennessee Williams

  1. phil says:

    I had no idea.
    Somehow I find this comforting. Odd.
    Wonder if they scribbled or wrote with typewriters together.

  2. bybee says:

    I think there’s a picture of them together somewhere. I really like the argyle socks one in this post, though.

  3. sheila says:

    Phil – I love that image, too. She had a pretty bad time of it around this time – with her strokes and everything – and Williams always felt really really close to her.

  4. sheila says:

    bybee – Yeah, there are quite a few photos of them together, included in his journal, and collected letters.

    Didn’t choose one of those, though.

  5. sheila says:

    When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the play Member of the Wedding – I thought it began as a play. I had no idea it was a book first. The lead character (played by Julie Harris on Broadway) is a 13 year old awkward girl, and so believable – I read it WHEN I was 13, and thought: “Wow. This writer gets it just right.”

    The fact that McCullers did her own adaptation of her novel for the stage … and that it worked so well … is quite notable. It so often happens the other way.

    Williams had mixed feelings about the play. Maybe because she was coming on to “his turf”. He loved the book but was a bit reserved about the play.

    The Broadway production of Member of the Wedding is one of those plays where I wish I could go back in time to see it, mainly for Harris’ performance.

  6. Shelley says:

    Williams was also friends with the man who changed my life, Horton Foote. In one letter Williams referred to Mr. Foote as an ice cream shake, or a similar metaphor, but I think Williams was actually awed, as many were, by his friend’s goodness.

  7. sheila says:

    Shelley – I love Horton Foote! I’m reading Tennessee Williams’ Notebooks right now and Horton Foote shows up regularly. If I think of it, I’ll post some quotes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.