Winner of the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award for best biography.
Winner of the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award for recognition of “the quality of prose style”
John Lahr’s latest book, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, a biography of Tennessee Williams, follows Lahr’s other ground-breaking theatre biographies to give intimate access to the mind of one of the greatest American playwrights of the twentieth century. Williams’s work ushered in – as Arthur Miller declared – ‘a revolution’ in American theatre. Williams put his best self – and most of his life – into his plays: The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, The Rose Tattoo, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Sweet Bird of Youth, The Night of the Iguana among many. The plays, later made into films, defined their times and also gave defining roles to many of the century’s greatest players: Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski in Street Car, Laurette Taylor as Amanda in The Glass Menagerie, Maureen Stapleton and Eli Wallach as Serafina and Alvaro in The Rose Tattoo, and Geraldine Page as the Princess in Sweet Bird of Youth.
This brilliantly written, deeply researched biography sheds a light on Williams’s warring family, his lobotomized sister, his guilt, his plays, his turbulent homosexual life, his misreported death, even the shenanigans of his estate. In the sensational saga of Williams’s rise and fall, Lahr captures not just the man1s tempestuous public existence but also his thrilling backstage life where the director Elia Kazan, his agent Audrey Wood, Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, Bette Davis, Maureen Stapleton, Diana Barrymore, Tallulah Bankhead, Eli Wallach, and Laurette Taylor have scintillating walk-on parts. Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh is a biography of the highest order: a book about the major American playwright of his time written by the major American drama critic of his time.
Tennessee Wiiliams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh picked amongst the best books of the year in: USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, The Observer, The Sunday Times, The Independent, The Financial Times, the Kirkus Service, Publishers Weekly
‘This witty, moving, ferociously intelligent study of the great, troubled
playwright’s personal and creative paths and how they intersected, is
essential reading for theater fans.’
‘The book is a triumph’
‘Nobody will be able to write another biography of Tennessee Williams after this, because it puts the D in definitive.’
‘This is a masterpiece about a genius. Only John Lahr, with his perceptions about the theater, about writers, about poetry and about people could have written this book. What a marvelous read, with brilliantly detailed research.’
‘John Lahr’s magnificent biography…gathers material from a vast array of sources, including Williams’s diaries, poems, letters and the recollections of countless friends and colleagues,to trace how the personal and the creative lives interweave throughout the whole span of Williams’s oeuvre. The result is at once sensitive and magisterial, and it fulfils the ultimate test for a literary biography by convincing you that the works cannot be understood without it. Once you have read it, it becomes part of their meaning.’
John Carey, lead review, Sunday London Times
‘This is by far the best book ever written about America’s greatest playwright. John Lahr, the longtime drama critic for the New Yorker, knows his way around Broadway better than anyone. He is a witty and elegant stylist, a scrupulous researcher, a passionate yet canny advocate… Hebrings us as close to Williams as we are ever likely to get.’
J.D. McClatchy,Wall Street Journal
‘Splendid beyond words. It would be hard to imagine a more satisfying biography.’
‘Could this be the best theater book I’ve ever read? It just might be. Tennessee Williams had two great pieces of luck. Elia Kazan to direct his work and now John Lahr to make thrilling sense of his life.’
John Guare, author of Six Degrees of Separation, House of Blue Leaves, Atlantic City
‘Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh is a biography of the playwright that is never likely to be equalled let alone surpassed.’