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When Tennessee Williams was 16, he won a writing contest by pretending to be a disgruntled divorcee.

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February 25, 2021, 1:21pm

On the 38th anniversary of Tennessee Williams’s death, we’re remembering his very first published piece of writing, written way before he was a literary giant—and even before he used his own name. (Well, his assumed name, but still.) As a sixteen-year-old, Williams was published in the 1927 issue of the “magazine of cleverness” Smart Set, for winning a writing contest entitled, “Can a Good Wife Be a Good Sport?” (Spoiler: apparently not.) In order to establish credibility on the subject, he assumed the persona of a divorced husband hurt by his wife’s infidelity. Here’s the amazing lede:

Can a woman after marriage maintain the same attitude toward other men as she held before marriage? Can she drink, smoke, and pet with them? Those are questions of really great pertinence to modern married life. In recounting my own unhappy marital experiences, perhaps I can present convincing answers . . .

Fair enough: do what you have to do to get that writing money. According to Williams’s mother Edwina, as noted by Jacqueline O’Connor for the Sewanee Review in 2018, after winning the prize Williams started “coming into the house through the back door instead of the front as he usually did. I am sure he feared the magazine would send someone to the house to check up and discover this supposedly sophisticated divorced prizewinner was sixteen and had never even dated a woman.”

We miss you, Tennessee Williams!

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