In his plays, Williams depicts writers who know each other socially as squabbling rivals, trading banter: Hemingway and Fitzgerald bicker in his Clothes for a Summer Hotel; and in The Notebooks of Trigorin, Williams’ version of Chekhov’s Seagull, the short-story writers Treplev and Trigorin describe each other with withering dismissals. In Williams’ life, catty remarks were tossed at him and thrown back to his friends Donald Windham, Gore Vidal, and Truman Capote—that is to say, other gay writers of his generation whose criticism Williams endured, even as he tolerated their work as playwrights (yet somehow passing on to them that he knew himself to be the superior dramatist). No one could be quite so wounding to Williams as these men who knew enough to cut close and deep. Williams gave as good as he got. Gore Vidal, in an unintentionally self-revealing review of Williams’ Memoirs titled “Some Memories of the Glorious Bird and an Earlier Self,” cracked that “the Bird seldom reads a book,” to which Williams replied, “He means I seldom read one of his.”
David Kaplan is curator of the Provincetown Tennessee Williams Theater Festival and author of Tennessee Williams in Provincetown (2006).