The Florida town where the playwright was known simply as “Tom” celebrates his birthday publicly for the first time.
by Cerith Mathias
Wednesday, March 26, was declared the first ever official Tennessee Williams day in the playwright’s former home of Key West, Florida. Monroe county Mayor Sylvia J. Murphy signed a proclamation naming the day in honor of what would have been Tennessee’s 103rd birthday.
A celebration was held at the Tennessee Williams Exhibit on Truman Avenue in the city, where the winners of a poetry and art competition held to mark the event were also announced by exhibit director Dennis Beaver. The theme of the contests was “The Rose Tattoo,” a Williams play that was made into a popular motion picture, filmed on the island in 1955.
Danielle Sellers won the poetry prize and RM Walter (pictured below) was crowned the winner of the art competition, where contestants had to complete their paintings in three hours or less, as Tennessee Williams apparently did.
A birthday cake was shared among the 100 or so guests at the event — the blue icing dedicated to Tom, as explained by exhibit editor Bert Whitt: “Here in Key West he wanted to be known as Tom, not Tennessee because of the attention that name drew. So we wanted to honor that.”
The Tennessee Williams Exhibit is located at 513 Truman Ave. and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. It includes an extensive collection of photographs, first edition plays and books, rare newspaper and magazine articles, videos, a typewriter used by the author while writing in Key West and other artifacts on display in a newly remodeled space.
Cerith Mathias is a political television producer for the BBC in South Wales, but her true passion is traveling and literature. “I have held a keen interest in the South since childhood, which I believe stems from reading authors such as Harper Lee and Mark Twain,” she says. She’s written articles on Zelda Fitzgerald for literary magazines and published work in New Zealand, Italy and the UK. She’s currently working on a travel guide based on her travels in the South. Read her interview with Alabama Distinguished Writer of the Year Mark Childress here.