- Our Knowledge of Tennessee Williams
As editor of The Tennessee Williams Encyclopedia, Phillip Kolin has provided scholars and admirers of the late playwright with concise, readable, and effectively organized information, both biographical and critical.
The Encyclopedia provides extensive biographical information, including entries by friends and lovers, family members and literary critics, publishers, theater personalities, and other writers. There are also extremely useful production histories of Williams' plays, including his frequently omitted one-act plays. Williams' fiction is also frequently discussed, along with his voluminous offerings of poetry. Essays, memoirs, and significant correspondence are also neatly catalogued. Possibly more film adaptations of Williams' plays were successes in the American cinema than those of any other playwright. A fine essay on these adaptations is, therefore, included in the book.
Philip Kolin is no stranger to readers of the Southern Literary Journal, which published a review of Kolin's Confronting Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire: Essays in Critical Pluralism in 1994, the year following its publication. Kolin almost invariably attends the Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans and has published extensively on the author. Consequently, he is known and admired by Tennessee Williams scholars everywhere. It is not surprising, therefore, to find entries by major critics, such as Thomas Allen, Robert Bray, Jackson Breyer, John Clum, Albert Devlin, Colby Kullmer, Felicia Hardison Londré, Brenda Murphy, Brian Parker, Ralph Voss and William Wrobel in the Encyclopedia. [End Page 137] Nevertheless, many of the younger scholars in this useful volume have also made invaluable contributions. Some scholars may well choose this encyclopedia for its comprehensive bibliographies of primary sources and secondary sources.
A handsome volume, Kolin's encyclopedia is not only beautifully conceived and arranged but also includes pictures of Williams himself as well as of actors who have played parts in his productions. For example, Katherine Hepburn, in the film Suddenly Last Summer, or scenes from an original production such as the 1953 Broadway hit Camino Real provide visual illustrations.
The Tennessee Williams Encyclopedia provides essential information for both scholars and sophisticated general readers. Those who worry that so many critics have written so much about Williams may well find new topics or perceive configurations of previous ideas in new ways. The late Margaret Ramsay, one of the world's great theater agents, proclaimed Williams to be the "best" of twentieth-century playwrights. Considering the famous English writers Ramsay represented, she may have deliberately—and perhaps pragmatically—selected a great American to be her playwright of the century. Nevertheless, with the support of the Casarotto-Ramsay agency, Tom Erhardt, Ramsay's successor, now represents the Williams literary estate, and with the University of the South as the chief beneficiary of Williams's financial and literary legacy, an increasing number of younger scholars will uncover new areas of research in the playwright's vast opus. The Tennessee Williams Encyclopedia will be a useful tool to all Williams aficionados.