In 1936, just before his twenty-fifth birthday, Tennessee Williams began keeping a journal. ‘Saw first robin today – two in fact,’ reads the first entry, ‘pain in chest all morning but okay tonite.’ ‘Felt rather stupid all day,’ it concludes, ‘but will write tomorrow – .’ Williams then continued the journal intermittently until two years before his death in 1983. It has now been published for the first time.
The notebooks in which Williams kept his journal are unremarkable in appearance, the kind that can still be bought at any American drugstore. And the journal entries, as that first one shows, are often written in a kind of shorthand and are always unpremeditated, like random snapshots of the day. But it is this very lack of premeditation that makes them valuable. This is a record of thoughts and feelings jotted down almost as they happened, offering glancing insights into one of the most remarkable talents the American theatre has ever known.
‘This is where I record my less exuberant moments,’ Williams confesses in an entry for 1936. Six years later, he sounds a similar note: ‘I use this journal mostly for distress signals and do not often bother to note the little and decently impersonal things which sometimes have my attention.’