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Tennessee Williams; Edited by Margaret Bradham Thornton

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Tennessee Williams’s Notebooks, here published for the first time, presents by turns a passionate, whimsical, movingly lyrical, self-reflective, and completely uninhibited record of the life of this monumental American genius from 1936 to 1981, the year of his death. In these pages Williams (1911-1981) wrote out his most private thoughts as well as sketches of plays, poems, and accounts of his social, professional, and sexual encounters. The notebooks are the repository of Williams’s fears, obsessions, passions, and contradictions, and they form possibly the most spontaneous self-portrait by any writer in American history.
Meticulously edited and annotated by Margaret Thornton, the notebooks follow Williams’ growth as a writer from his undergraduate days to the publication and production of his most famous plays, from his drug addiction and drunkenness to the heights of his literary accomplishments. At one point, Williams writes, “I feel dull and disinterested in the literary line. Dr. Heller bores me with all his erudite discussion of literature. Writing is just writing! Why all the fuss about it?” This remarkable record of the life of Tennessee Williams is about writing—how his writing came up like a pure, underground stream through the often unhappy chaos of his life to become a memorable and permanent contribution to world literature.

Margaret Bradham Thornton is a writer and independent scholar based in Bedminster, New Jersey.

"[A] stupendous, superbly annotated edition of Williams's Notebooks. . . . This is what it was like, minute by minute, to be Tennessee Wiliiams, his own commentary on himself for himself."—Simon Callow, Guardian Unlimited Books

“This magnificent tome is a treasure trove for Williams scholars and fans. . . . Williams’s dramatic life may be familiar to many, but thanks to Thornton’s superb scholarship, his interior conflicts, motivations and drive are at last revealed.”—Publishers Weekly

"Absorbing . . . [with] fascinating manifestations of [Williams's] indomitable spirit [and] his reckless courage in the face of adversity. . . . Williams gave the American theater more masterpieces than any other writer. . . . This book gives us a look at the sometimes sad, sometimes shoddy backstage of real life that permitted [him] to create his unforgettable and perfect dramas."—Edmund White, New York Times Book Review 


"Margaret Thornton has done something that would have delighted Tennessee Williams. She has served up his revealing notebooks with so rich of a mix of additional material and notations that the result is almost a new literary genre: a mix of diary, biography, autobiography, scrapbooks, and documentary history. It is addictive, and it bares Williams's soul."—Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

"These notebooks—partial as they are—will help clarify the creative and psychological highs and lows which both sustained and buffeted Tennessee Williams throughout his extraordinary life."—Edward Albee

"Of the more than one hundred books written about Tennessee Williams since his death, his own book, the Notebooks, is unique. It records the innermost feelings of America's greatest playwright from youth to old age, as jotted down by the playwright himself."—Allean Hale, Krannert Theatre, University of Illinois-Urbana   

"Here we have Tennessee Williams on and about Tennessee Williams, more revealing even than the Letters and sometimes more vulnerable than in the Memoirs. Thornton has supplied a masterfully edited, copiously annotated, and lavishly illustrated edition that is invaluable for scholars and Williams fans worldwide."—Philip C. Kolin, University of Southern Mississippi

"A sound and solid record of an artist's intimate mind and heart—and while personal, the Notebooks offer new insight into the cognitive patterns, cultural context, and physical life of one of the twentieth century's most important writers. I was profoundly moved by this privileged glimpse at Tennessee Williams' life and mind."—Ron Carlson, Director of Creative Writing, University of California at Irvine

"The Notebooks take us on a harrowing journey, and we come to know Williams the person very intimately, in the way he quite pitilessly knew himself. Reading them is like reading Van Gogh's letters or the diary of Nijinsky: the art arises from great pain that elicits pity and terror for the artist and lets us understand the uniqueness of his creations more subtly and intuitively."—Brian Parker, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto

"Some clue to Williams's long afterlife in the shadows of failure might be found in these Notebooks. Meticulously assembled, transcribed and annotated by Margaret Bradham Thornton, they are a collection of a couple of dozen cheap stationary-store notebooks, filled up by Williams with his thoughts of the day."---Phillip Hensher, The Telegraph

"Diaries are often written with half an eye on publication; but these notebooks of Tennessee Williams are truly, peculiarly and rather terribly private which makes them both compulsively gripping and - often simultaneously - boring... With Thornton's admirable help, a humanely involving story emerges from this catalogue of hypochondria, drug abuse and fornication."---Caroline Moore, The Sunday Telegraph

"Notebooks is nothing less than the Rosetta Stone to Williams's life and art. Even more so than his letters, Notebooks comes closer to the allusive alchemy that forged this great poet-playwright than anything we're ever likely to read. This is the raw, day-to-day material of Williams' life and how, bit by bit, he forged it into something splendid, doubting himself every step of the way." . . . [Thornton's] sole objective is to give us 'Williams' authentic voice—genuine and unadorned' and she has brilliantly succeeded.—David Cuthbert, New Orleans Times-Picayune

"It's fascinating to see how hard Williams worked to hone his voice, and to follow the 10 breathtakingly productive years that galvanized American theater, not to mention Hollywood."—New York Post (Required reading)

"It's the next-best thing to having a conversation with the complicated playwright, who died in 1983 at age 71. Unvarnished entries from William's journals—written by hand in drugstore notebooks—reveal his fears, flaws and weaknesses. Editor Margaret Bradham Thornton spent 10 years working on the project, which includes private photos, drawings, poems and letters. Frank and fascinating."—Birmingham News

"The year's most hotly anticipated non-fiction tells the story behind the story. . . . Notebooks reads like a gossip self-portrait of one of America's most celebrated, and secretive, authors."—Vogue (People Are Talking About)

"In an impressive display of literary scholarship, detective work, and historical research, Margaret Thornton has pulled together the 30 known journals kept by Williams that span the years 1936 to 1981. . . . The end product is a lavishly annotated and impressively constructed volume that includes a vast array of personal photographic material as well as plates taken from the actual pages of the notebooks. . . . While the appeal of Notebooks will primarily be to Willimas scholars, students and aficionados of his plays, wider readers will certainly be offered a fascinating journey into the writing life of a major creative force."—Marcus Niski, The Age (Australia)

"...riveting... Interleaved with a rich trove of photographs and outstandingly annotated, these notebooks let you see it happen, as well as handsomely highlighting what was lost."---Peter Kemp, The Sunday Times

"The revelation of Margaret Bradham Thornton's stupendous, superbly annotated edition of Williams's Notebooks is that nothing ever poured out of him. Everything, from the beginning, was squeezed out with agonising difficulty, surrounded by intense self-doubt and constant premonitions of physical and emotional collapse."---Simon Callow, The Guardian

"Edited with grace and sensitivity and well illustrated with innumerable photographs of the people who came in and out of his life - from WH Auden and Visconti, to a failed love affair with a GI, plus a selection of Williams' own drawings and paintings - this remarkable publication is likely to become one of the great books of the year."---Richard Edmonds, The Stage

"[An] extraordinary book, meticulously edited by Margaret Bradham Thornton. It needs to be read by anyone interested in Williams or the American theatre - or for that matter, in that strange, alchemical process by which some writers manage to turn anxiety into art."---Richard Gray, Literary Review

"This tome provides an acute glimpse into the mind, art, and life of the preeminent mid-century American playwright. Williams's world as recounted here is as messy and as haunted and as sad as might be expected, but the writer springs from these pages a humane, scrupulous, honest, and very likable man."—Atlantic Monthly

"These journal entries are Tennessee Williams unplugged. . . . These raw, unedited Notebooks reflect the man Williams was when he began the journals in 1936—all innocence and hope—and on through the good days and bad he lived until two years before his death. . . . Thornton, the editor, has written and compiled her weight in notes, adding context to everything Williams says and what he doesn't say."—Susanna Bullock, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"I could go on waxing lyrical about this remarkable book but suffice it to say that it bursts at the seams with astonishing illustrations ranging through innumerable personal photographs, facsimiles of his handwritten notes and dozens of production photographs of his plays and reminiscences of a remarkable life...this book will live with me for the rest of my own life."---Amateur Stage

"This book gives us a look at the sometimes sad, sometimes shoddy backstage of real life that permitted Williams to create his unforgettable and perfect dramas."---Edmund White, The Scotsman

"The journals reveal Williams's authentic voice, genuine and unadorned."--- Sebastian Horsley, The New Statesman

"Ms. Bradham Thornton has done a brilliant job of annotating the material, giving us copious photographs of Williams at all stages of life and providing punctilious footnotes that almost match the text for word-count at times...It all amounts to a monumental testament to a poignant life, a no-holds-barred, worm's eye view of America's most raw and brutal lyricist."---Aubrey Malone, The Irish Examiner

"The journals show the first signs of a remarkable talent that would blow apart the conventions of 20th-century American drama." - Piers Plowright, West End Extra

'...the fragmented daybooks which he [Williams] kept for much of his life, and which have now been edited, with sumptuous photographic and biographical supplementation, by Margaret Bradham Thornton, to whom devotees of Williams should be grateful.'  - Wayne Koestenbaum, London Review of Books

"...Tennessee Williams, had his private journal handsomely issues in Notebooks, edited by Margaret Bradham Thornton..."  - Tim Martin, Daily Telegraph

"Notebooks, which [Williams] kept, mostly in diary form, between 1936 and 1958 and again briefly between 1979 and 1981, and which have been edited and annotated with fastidious care by Margaret Bradham Thornton, are the most useful guide we have to his life and his moods. About many aspects of him, this new volume is invaluable."—Colm Toíbín, New York Review of Books

"Thornton's meticulous preparation of Notebooks significantly overshadows other compilations of authors' journals, memoirs, or personal letters. . . . Each perusal of the pages becomes a moment where the past comes alive. . . . Decades are fleshed out, bringing alive a world war, along with the literary and acting circles of greats like Gore Vidal, Marlon Brando, and Jessica Tandy. [Thornton's] work, an adventurous resurrection of the past, offers a variety of readers honest and uncensored insight into the making of an extraordinary artist."—Susan Savage Lee, Rocky Mountain Review

"His journals record [his] descent in excruciating detail and finally explode the myth that he was done in by the critics."—Myles Weber, Georgia Review

"Not only a treasure trove for aficionados of Williams and the American theater and a sociocultural record of his life and times but also a meditation on the toll of success and celebrity and the inevitable tension between the public and private life of the artist."—Thomas P. Adler, Magill's Literary Annual 2008

"Margaret Bradham Thornton's notes are impeccably researched and include photos, reproductions of the original notebook pages, drawings and paintings by Williams and detailed detective work that follows up every reference.  For Tennessee Williams aficionados, this work will be a source of great enrichment..." - Piers Plowright, Camden New Journal

Winner of the Bronze ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award in Autobiography/Memoir Category

Winner of the C. Hugh Holman Prize for the best volume of southern literary scholarhip published in 2006, given by the Society for the Study of Southern Literature.
ISBN: 9780300116823
Publication Date: January 30, 2007
856 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
643 b/w illus.