One of the most celebrated writers marked Key West as his inspirational epicenter. Now on his 104th birthday, the city is celebrating the literary influence of Tennessee Williams all March long.
Photo © Tennessee Williams Key West Exhibit
More than 100 miles from Florida’s mainland, Key West has lured noteworthy literary spirits to its sandy shores for decades – Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, and Hunter S. Thompson are just a few who sought out Key West as a remote escape and a creative muse. In 1941, just after the construction of the Overseas Highway, Key West was still territory for the brave bohemian.
It was then that 30-year-old Tennessee Williams first visited the place that would be a travel destination and home to him for the rest of his life. “Key West had in those days a very authentic frontier atmosphere which was delightful,” Williams later said. “It’s the only place in this country where it’s warm enough for me to swim every day of the year. The sky is always so clear, and the water’s so blue.”
Williams is widely regarded as one of the best playwrights of the twentieth century. Think award-winning titles like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, and A Streetcar Named Desire, the last of which he is believed to have completed while at the La Concha Hotel in Key West.
Just down the street along Truman Avenue, more of Williams’s time in Key West is unveiled with an intensive collection of curated memorabilia and photographs. Founder of the Tennessee Williams Key West Exhibit Dennis Beaver points out first-edition plays, photographs of a sun-tanned smiling Williams, and a typewriter used by Williams during his time here.
Williams felt comfortable in his little “Tom Thumb cottage” at 1431 Duncan Street (named, no doubt, for its petite size and magical, tucked-away charm), so removed from the hustle and bustle of the mainstream.
Today, Key West continues to be a special destination for writers, shaping the character of their work. Poetry readings, screenplays, and literary seminars infuse local calendars, particularly in March when the legacy of Tennessee Williams comes front and center for a literary celebration during his birthday month.
“He helped establish this as a destination for writers to come and visit him,” says Beaver, who helps organize the annual celebration when visitors can experience Williams’s impression on Key West. “Almost everything remains from his time in Key West, including his home.”
Celebrate Tennessee Williams in March
A monthlong birthday celebration for the writer, complete with film screenings, art, and poetry readings.
March 2, 9, 16, 23 & 30
Tennessee Williams Monday Night Classic Film Series – Watch a different Williams film each Monday evening at the Tropic Cinema.
Staged Readings of Tennessee’s Rose – A presentation of the playwright’s love, loss, and loyalty of his sister and muse, Rose, drawn from plays, letters, and journals.
Poetry Contest – Local poets are invited to submit a work about the relationship between Williams and his sister, Rose, or of Tom and Laura in The Glass Menagerie.
Plein-Air Painting Contest – Paintings of the Rose Williams House.
Tennessee Williams Film Forum – Film discussion of his works with critic Shirrel Rhoades at the Tropic Cinema.