Blue Song: St. Louis in the Life and Work of Tennessee Williams (Hardcover)

Blue Song: St. Louis in the Life and Work of Tennessee Williams Cover Image

Blue Song: St. Louis in the Life and Work of Tennessee Williams (Hardcover)

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In 2011, the centennial of Tennessee Williams’s birth, events were held around the world honoring America’s greatest playwright. There were festivals, conferences, and exhibitions held in places closely associated with Williams’s life and career—New Orleans held major celebrations, as did New York, Key West, and Provincetown. But absolutely nothing was done to celebrate Williams’s life and extraordinary literary and theatrical career in the place that he lived in longest, and called home longer than any other—St. Louis, Missouri.

The question of this paradox lies at the heart of this book, an attempt not so much to correct the record about Williams’s well-chronicled dislike of the city, but rather to reveal how the city was absolutely indispensable to his formation and development both as a person and artist. Unlike the prevailing scholarly narrative that suggests that Williams discovered himself artistically and sexually in the deep South and New Orleans, Blue Song reveals that Williams remained emotionally tethered to St. Louis for a host of reasons for the rest of his life.
Henry I. Schvey is Professor of Drama and Comparative Literature at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of three books, including Oskar Kokoschka: The Painter as Playwright. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.
Product Details ISBN: 9780826222305
ISBN-10: 0826222307
Publisher: University of Missouri
Publication Date: June 24th, 2021
Pages: 258
Language: English
“Schvey’s writing style is delightful to manages to fuse the meticulous research of the scholar with a personal voice and connection to Williams that makes the book come alive.”—Annette J. Saddik, Professor of Theatre and Literature, City University of New York, author of Tennessee Williams and the Theatre of Excess: The Strange, the Crazed, the Queer

“Tennessee Williams's formative St. Louis years—spanning his adolescence and early adulthood—have for so long been biographical flyover country, barely acknowledged even by Williams himself. Now a fellow St. Louisan, Henry Schvey, has brought this period vividly to life. Blue Song, with its impeccable scholarship and intimate personal engagement, finally completes the portrait of America's greatest playwright.”—Rocco Landesman, Former chair of the NEA and 3-time Tony Award winning Broadway producer

“When Tennessee Williams was asked what brought him to New Orleans, he said ‘St Louis’. In this eminently readable and exhaustively researched study, Henry Schvey deftly swivels the spotlight illuminating the work of Tennessee Williams from the freedom of New Orleans which is typically heralded as the source of his greatness and shines it boldly back into the prison of Tennessee’s life in ‘Saint Pollution’ which enshrouded him with a darkness he was never able to escape. A notable contribution to the understanding of this great ever fascinating American playwright.”—John Guare, playwright and screenwriter, author of The House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation

“Tennessee Williams spent twenty years in St. Louis, from 1918 until 1938, but in Blue Song, Henry I. Schvey eloquently and convincingly shows how his time there significantly impacted the subject matter and themes of his work throughout his life. He does this through illuminating analyses of the lesser-known plays, stories, and poems he wrote while he was in St. Louis, and with fresh examinations of both obscure and more familiar later plays which demonstrate how his complex feelings about his St. Louis years pervaded them as well. Throughout, Schvey’s careful research combines with the acuity of his critiques to produce a valuable contribution to both the biographical and critical record of one of America’s leading twentieth-century literary figures.”—Jackson R. Bryer, University of Maryland, co-editor of William Inge: Essays and Reminiscences on the Plays and the Man

“For Tennessee Williams, St. Louis was a trap, as was his family. He found it literally and emotionally suffocating, the air thick with smoke from the burning of bituminous coal, his father remote, his mother garrulous, his sister mentally damaged. He longed to escape, like the narrator of The Glass Menagerie, even as entrapment would become a central image and subject in his plays. It was, indeed, as Henry Schvey points out in a penetrating study, where, late in life, he would be incarcerated in a mental hospital and, finally, be buried. Yet, as Schvey also insists, it was where his talent was born, where he saw his first plays staged, imprinting itself on his imagination so that in a way he never did escape. There could scarcely be a better guide to a city’s impact on a writer, in a book which also offers new insights into plays familiar and unfamiliar by one of America’s greatest playwrights.”—Christopher Bigsby, author of Staging America: Twenty-First-Century Dramatists

“While ‘Missouri’ Williams would have never rolled off the tongue as slickly as ‘Tennessee,’ Henry I. Schvey argues convincingly that the young Tom Williams’s genius was nourished as much in St. Louis as it was in Clarksdale or Memphis. Williams’s signatory ‘fugitive kind,’ Schvey reminds us, are more the detritus of a Depression-era St. Louis than they are the antiheroes of a post-Reconstruction New South. Tracing the city’s presence in and impact on Williams’s early through late works, Blue Song:St. Louis in the Life and Work of Tennessee Williams is a much needed ‘piece of the puzzle of Williams’s art’ and complicated life.”—John S. Bak, Professor of American Studies, Université de Lorraine

“As much as the future playwright openly despised the polluted city where he felt trapped from the age of seven throughout his teens, there could have been no Tennessee Williams without St. Louis. Henry Schvey deftly conveys how pervasive the city's influence was, whether the plays are set there or elsewhere. The writing is fluid and the insights are often breathtaking.”—Felicia Hardison Londré, University of Missouri-Kansas City, author of Modern American Drama: Playwriting in the 1940s

"In sum, Schvey’s book has the panoptic reach and cultural depth to make it one of the major coordinates in St. Louis history and Tennessee Williams scholarship."—The Common Reader

“It is rare that I find myself totally immersed into the world of an academic text in the manner that I might be in reading a novel, but this was absolutely the case when I picked up Henry Schvey’s engrossing new volume on Tennessee Williams’s intimate connection to St. Louis, Blue Song.”—David Crespy, Missouri Historical Review

“This is a book that has been needed for years. Although many sophisticated readers and theatre-goers think they know the playwright, Henry Schvey’s book opens up the influence of 1930s St. Louis on Tennessee Williams in ways that will realign our understanding of his career. Although there are several excellent biographies and critical studies of Williams, as well as his own journals, letters and memoirs, we haven’t had a serious investigation of how the formative years in St. Louis -- a politically volatile city in the 1930s – steeped his work in social consciousness. This awareness is especially important at this time as we interrogate the relevance of our literary forebears. Henry Schvey does not over-simplify his case, but describes a writer who expressed the emotional richness of characters as well was their socio-political motivations. His plays were poetic as well as socially relevant. Even in Williams’s intimate psychological characterizations, Schvey identifies how the St. Louis years of family tension, labor strife, sexual repression, and artistic longing blend into a stew that has given staying power to Tennessee Williams.”—Tom Mitchell, Department of Theatre, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Blue Song delves deeply and insightfully into St. Louis’ complicated influence on Williams's life and work. A fantastic read.”—Carrie Houk, Executive Artistic Director, Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis