The Letters of Tennessee Williams and James Laughlin

Download (23)Richard Canning at Literary Review:

The pair had met at a party given by Lincoln Kirstein, cofounder of the New York City Ballet, and immediately developed a strong rapport. The friendship was eventually to span four decades and is richly documented in this well-edited collection of their letters. Laughlin, 6’6”, liked his diminutive, apt pupil Williams, who was in fact three years his senior (but notoriously prone to dissemblance). He also sincerely respected Williams’s verse. Indeed, Jay (as Williams usually called Laughlin) never stopped considering his friend first and foremost a poet. Just two collections of verse came from their collaboration: In the Winter of Cities (1956) and the cringingly titled Androgyne, Mon Amour (1977), one of Williams’s better-forgotten later works, written as the mental fog descended. Williams trusted Laughlin with all his prose writings too, excepting another late work of ill repute, the opportunistic Memoirs (1975), many of whose ‘truths’ were more fictional than strange.

The wildly transgressive subject matter of the stories New Directions published happily escaped wider notice, even as Williams’s dramatic career took flight with The Glass Menagerie (1944) and A Streetcar Named Desire (1947). The cultishness of the New Directions list, as well as Williams’s careful interventions to influence the packaging, marketing and distribution of his titles and to set their prices high, effectively kept tales such as ‘One Arm’ and ‘Desire and the Black Masseur’ at a decent remove from the wider public.

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