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Williams, Tennesseelocked

(26 March 1911–24 February 1983)
  • John M. Clum

Extract

Williams, Tennessee (26 March 1911–24 February 1983), playwright, poet, and writer of fiction, was born Thomas Lanier Williams in Columbus, Mississippi, the son of Cornelius Coffin Williams and Edwina Dakin. The circumstances of Tom Williams’s birth speak volumes about his parents’ relationship. In 1909 Edwina Williams had returned to Columbus to live with her parents, an Episcopal rector and his wife, rather than live with her temperamental, hard-drinking husband. (C. C. Williams, a traveling salesman, usually stayed with them on weekends.) The model for many of her son’s characters, Edwina Williams played the role of southern belle more than was necessary, even in Ohio where she spent much of her adolescence. She also apparently had a distaste for sex, and her denial of what her husband saw as his connubial rights was one of the greatest sources of marital discord, particularly when he found sexual release elsewhere. C. C. Williams came from a good Tennessee family but hardly acted the southern aristocrat. In addition to his turbulent relationship with his wife, C. C. did not care much for his firstborn, Rose (born 1909), nor Tom, his second, whom he called “Miss Nancy.” His affection was saved for his third child, Dakin (born 1919). The happiest times of Tom’s youth were spent in his grandparents’ rectory. In many ways, the Reverend Dakin was the central father figure for the young man, taking him to New York and Europe. And his beloved maternal grandmother later paid for the completion of his degree at the University of Iowa....

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