Famed playwright Tennessee Williams was born in 1911 in Columbus, Miss., but spent most of his formative years in St. Louis — one of them at Washington University in St. Louis.
It was on this campus that his sensitive temperament, shy personality, budding creativity and truly dysfunctional family coalesced and heavily influenced the themes and characters he later made immortal.
In this centennial year of Williams’ birth and the 75th anniversary of his matriculation at WUSTL, Tennessee Williams’ literary legacy will be the subject of an Assembly Series lecture by Henry I. Schvey, PhD, professor of drama and of comparative literature, both in Arts & Sciences.
Schvey’s presentation, “Tennessee Williams at 100: From Washington University to the Wider World,” will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6, in Steinberg Hall Auditorium. His talk will explore how the university and the city shaped Williams as a person and into one of America’s best playwrights.
The lecture kicks off a three-day celebration of Williams’ achievements and contributions that includes two one-man performances by Jeremy Lawrence Oct. 7 and 8.
Schvey joined the Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences as chairman in 1987 and led the department for 20 years. In addition to teaching and research, Schvey also directs and writes plays.
Williams is one of his many scholarly interests. In 2004, Schvey played many instrumental roles in an international conference on “Tennessee Williams: The Secret Year,” including chairing the conference, directing a performance of The Glass Menagerie, and co-producing the world premiere of the one-act Williams wrote as a WUSTL student, Me, Vashya.
While in New Orleans lecturing about this unknown and then-unpublished play, Schvey stumbled upon Williams’ Greek blue examination booklet (with a failing grade) from when Williams was a student in 1937. On its back page was a poem, “Blue Song,” which Schvey published in The New Yorker.
Schvey has written extensively on the subject, contributing both personal and professional essays in scholarly publications here and abroad. Most recently, he has published the essays “Discovering Tennessee” in River Styx; “Getting the Colored Lights Going: Expressionism in A Streetcar Named Desire” in Critical Insights: Tennessee Williams; and “Tennessee Williams’ Poetics of Tragedy” in Etudes Anglaises.
This past summer, he chaired a panel and delivered a paper on A Streetcar Named Desire at the “Tennessee Williams and Europe” Centennial Conference in Nancy, France.
At 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 7, students will present a dramaturgical exploration of The Glass Menagerie, also open to the public, in the Women’s Building, Studio II
The celebration’s supporters and co-sponsors include Thyrsus; the Center for Humanities, the Program in Comparative Literature, the PAD and Department of English, all in Arts & Sciences; the Washington University Libraries; and the Assembly Series.
For more information on the Assembly Series lecture, visit assemblyseries.wustl.edu or call (314) 935-4620. For more information about the Williams centennial celebration, visit the PAD website or call (314) 935-5858.