A New Orleans Literary Moment researched and written by New Orleans Tour Guide Extraordinaire and Historian David Feldman, shared by The Savvy Native.
A 27 year old Tom Williams first made his way from St. Louis to New Orleans at the end of 1938. It was Carnival. On his way South he stopped in Memphis to send off some of his plays to a New York competition. He figured he’d have a better chance as a “Southern Writer”. So, he posted from Memphis and doubled-down on the subterfuge: renaming himself “Tennessee Williams.” (That’s one story!)
Williams took lodgings in the attic over a restaurant at 726 Toulouse. A job as a writer for the WPA didn’t pan out so he worked for the restaurant to pay the rent. First he penned a handbill for the restaurant, “A Meal for a Quarter in The Quarter”. Williams ran around The French Quarter in the morning distributing the handbills on the streets. Then he rushed back to the restaurant and waited tables for lunch.
He wrote his mother that New Orleans had nothing to offer him. Carnival seemed too much for Williams. He and a friend left for the Hollywood to become screenwriters. He left just before Mardi Gras. But he didn’t leave before following a sailor he met in a bar down the street. It was his first time.
When he returned to New Orleans in 1946 he was a famous playwright thanks to his ground-breaking “Glass Menagerie.” And twenty years later he finally finished the play he had begun in 1938 at 726 Toulouse Street. The attic apartment in “Vieux Carré” is as much a presence in the play as any of the characters. 726 Toulouse is also featured in Williams’ short story, “The Angel in The Alcove”.
Many years later Williams confessed that, “In New Orleans … I found the kind of freedom I had always needed, and the shock of it – against the Puritanism of my nature – has given me a subject, a theme, which I have never ceased exploiting.”
We will next meet Williams on St. Peter’s Street in 1946. He will be working on a play with the working title, “The Poker Night.”
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