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The Tennessee Williams Festival

Tennessee Williams Festival

Sherrye Williams performs scenes from “The Glass Menagerie” on the historic front porch where the U.S. Tennessee Williams postage stamp was unveiled in 1995 in Clarksdale, Miss. (Photo by Panny Flautt Mayfield)

Sherrye Williams performs scenes from “The Glass Menagerie” on the historic front porch where the U.S. Tennessee Williams postage stamp was unveiled in 1995 in Clarksdale, Miss. (Photo by Panny Flautt Mayfield, the article about her work here.)

The internationally-acclaimed Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival occurs each year over an October weekend. Originally started as a celebration to honor Tennessee Williams and his childhood home, the festival has grown to international acclaim.

Spread across places where young Tom Williams lived, dreamed and found influence, the festival is spread across multiple historic and educational sites.  Attendees usually come into town through the week of the festival.  The festival features a literary conference at Coahoma Community College with many of our country’s top scholars and literary figures.  Also featured in honor of the great work of Tennessee Williams, there are highly entertaining porch plays and live drama starring stars from Broadway to Hollywood, regional theater professionals, and student actors.  All this set in the original historic neighborhood of the actual people who were the foundational inspirations for Brick, Blanche, and Baby Doll.  Live music, lots of it, is always a part of any Clarksdale gathering too.

Actors perform plays on porches at the Tennessee Williams Festival.

Actors perform plays on porches at the Tennessee Williams Festival (photo by Delta Bohemian)

The festival is hosted by Coahoma Community College and is supported by the Mississippi Arts Commission, the Mississippi Humanities Council, the Rock River Foundation, local businesses, and donors.  It is free and open to the public.

Festival organizers coordinate activities each spring with the Delta Literary Tour sponsored by the University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture and are part of the Southern Literary Trail through Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Blanche Clark Cutrer, whose name and home inspired young Tom Williams.

Blanche Clark Cutrer, whose name and home inspired young Tom Williams.

The Mississippi Humanities Council has awarded the festival for excellence and community collaboration and was recorded for a BBC documentary which aired in the United Kingdom.  The 2010 festival was publicized by a Broadway production Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by native Mississippian, James Earl Jones, and Phylicia Rashad.  Other recognizable acting and theater professionals who have appeared at the festival are Golden Globe nominee Ruth Wilson, British actress Frances O’Connor, actress Barbara Bel Geddes, actress Tammy Grimes, Oxford actor Johnny McPhail, Emmy Award winner Ruby Dee and theater veteran Erma Duricko.

Tennessee Williams plaque at the St. George's Episcopal Church rectory in Clarksdale.

Tennessee Williams plaque at the St. George’s Episcopal Church rectory in Clarksdale.

Among Clarksdale sites in the festival is St. George’s Episcopal Church, where Tennessee’s grandfather, Reverend Walter Dakin was a decon.  It is here that young Tom came and spent most of his childhood in Clarksdale.  The Cutrer Mansion in Clarksdale’s historic district is a key place in Tennessee’s early inspirations.  Called “Belle Reve” in Tennessee’s works, the mansion was the home of Blanche Clark Cutrer and is generally regarded as the ancestral home of Blanche and Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Historical marker for Uncle Henry’s on Moon Lake. Tennessee Williams called it “The Moon Lake Casino” in some of his plays.

Other festival sites are usually Uncle Henry’s place on Moon Lake, the old Anderson and Stovall plantations, and many of the historic homes along Clark Street, where Tennessee played and spent time in his youth.

At the 1995 festival, The Tennessee Williams Festival was selected by the U.S. Postal Service to host the unveiling of the Tennessee Williams postage stamp.  Also unveiled and honored at that time was Tennessee’s authorized biography by writer Lyle Leverich.

(see more about the festival, and booking a room at The Clark House, an inspirational place where young Tom spent his childhood)

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