I’m the guy who prays to you from time to time. Maybe you’re long gone and it’s a ridiculous thing to occasionally take out a photo of you and ask you for some strength and inspiration when I’m really struggling with the writing in those deadly quiet, lonely 5 a.m. hours of the night-but whenever I do it, I feel like you hear me, I feel like you smile warmly and nod knowingly, and then somehow, someway, I get from you a quiet assurance, and sometimes even a not-so-quiet kind of flaming fireball to the gut that says; “Yes dear, it is hard, it is lonely, and you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing, so do it, and do it fully, and faithfully, and courageously, and gratefully, and outrageously-and for the love of God do it with absolutely as much of your heart as you can possibly spare. The door is open. Listen deeper and write down what you hear.”
And maybe you’d never say anything remotely like that in real life, but that’s what I hear from you when I’m willing to dig out an old photo of you in the middle of the night and search your kind eyes and tell you I’m miserable and scared to death and I hate this whole writing thing and I’m stuck, stuck, stuck. You are a mother and a father to me, Tennessee. And I’m grateful that in your work, and in your resolute devotion to the sweat and the art of creation, that you have set a bar that can only be aspired to but can never be surpassed.
I could share maybe close to a hundred specific instances where your work has touched me in ways that no one else’s ever has. Maybe you’d enjoy reading in print that I think your work totally kicks Arthur Miller’s ass. Or that your elucidation of humanity is the most sublimely blah blah blah of any blah blah blah since blah blah blah. I’ll leave those sentiments to the better educated.
But I can tell you that I was once a mixed-up teenager in a back brace from a recent surgery, and that I limped into a high school drama class taught by a wonderful man named John McDonald, and we would read plays aloud, and I was kind of bored by the class until we started reading you, and when we read six of your plays back to back, I couldn’t believe how they made me cry and think and feel. And later that year, I was on a stage performing Tom in THE GLASS MENAGERIE, and I probably sucked, but it made me want to be an actor and a person in the theatre more than anything in this world. And then years later, when I began to write, I went back to your plays and fell in love and in awe of them all over again, and I have aspired ever since to the idea that if I’m going to write plays, I should hope to write something that might make somebody feel something like how I felt when we first read CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF back in high school. So thank you.”
-Stephen Adly Guirgus
What Williams Means To Mean
4 Contemporary Playwrights Weigh In On The Writer’s Legacy
American Theatre/September 2011