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In 2000, the Library of America published two volumes of the plays of Tennessee Williams edited by the Williams scholars Mel Gussow (1933 -- 2005) and Kenneth Holditch. The second volume of the two, which I am reviewing here, includes 13 plays written between 1957 -- 1980 and also includes an excellent chronology of Williams (1911 -- 1983) life. John Lahrs new biography, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (2014) inspired me to read Williams again, both the works which I knew and works with which I was unfamiliar. Lahr offers much insight into Williams life and work and into many of the plays in this volume.Williams was a romantic, heavily autobiographical writer. His works are lyrical, poetical, and often florid. They explore themes of loneliness, wildness and nonconformity, and the tension between sensuality and repression. A romantic, personal writer must find a way to project his own experiences in order to succeed. At his best, Williams is able to universalize his inner life and to speak to the human condition. During his lifetime and thereafter, many people criticized his works for their lurid sexuality and their violence. Most but not all of Williams plays have Southern settings, particularly in Mississippi or New Orleans.The works in this volume fall into roughly two groups. The first group includes the works written between 1957 -- 1961 in the broad, naturalistically romantic voice for which Williams is best remembered. These plays include Orpheus Descending, Suddenly Last Summer, Sweet Bird of Youth and The Night of the Iguana together with the comedy Period of Adjustment. To this group should be added The Eccentricities of a Nightingale which is a rewrite of Williams earlier Summer and Smoke but which stands as a separate work.The second group of plays consists of works from Williams long period of decline. The works from this period in this volume include The Milk Train Doesnt Stop Here Anymore, The Mutilated Kingdom of Earth Small Craft Warnings . Out Cry Vieux Carre and A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur. I want to discuss briefly this second group of plays because it was unfamiliar to me with the exception of Creve Coeur. This group also constitutes a still controversial, neglected part of Williams writing.The poor reception of the later work has often been attributed to Williams heavy deterioration from substance and alcohol abuse, to creative burnout, to a change in public standards from the claimed repression of the 1950s, and to a change in literary styles. These factors are all important, but they tend to overlook some of the strengths of Williams later works. Most of these plays are in a minimalist, experimental style that owes a great deal to Beckett or Ionesco. They make for difficult reading and acting. With the stylistic change, Williams themes of loneliness, sexuality, and the tension between flesh and spirit remain alive.Some of the late plays have survived their initial rejection and have been revived in connection with the 2011 centennial of Williams birth and thereafter. Milk Train, a play which straddles mature and late Williams, was revived in 2011 in a production starring Olympia Dukakis. Out Cry, the most difficult of the works in this collection, has had several recent performances in New York, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and elsewhere. Small Craft Warnings and the two later plays Vieux Carre and Creve Coeur which return in part to Williams earlier years also have been performed. Finally, Williams neglected short play, The Mutilated ran off-Broadway in a well-received production starring the underground performers Penny Arcade and Mink Stole. My understanding and appreciation of Williams and of the scope of his work increased by reading these late plays.In a discussion of the late plays in this volume, New York Times drama critic Charles Isherwood wrote in a February 9, 2011 article, titled New Light Long After His Sun Set: it [the late plays selected for the LOA volume] belies the simplistic view that Williamss later work reveals a stark and irreversible decline in his talent. Without question the later plays are less accessible than the dramas of his artistic high summer in the 1940s and 1950s. But they are stamped with the unmistakable voice of the author, albeit raised to a more febrile, scabrous pitch. It is moving, reading them together, to observe with what determination Williams pursued his own artistic path, refusing to return to old formulas even after it became glaringly clear that few were interested in the often weird, fantastic new colors of his work.I enjoyed revisiting Williams again in this Library of America volume with the insights I gained from Lahrs biography and elsewhere. I have revived each of the plays in this volume in greater detail in the individual editions of each work. The Library of America deserves large praise for its commitment to American literature and for making the best of Tennessee Williams accessible to readers.Robin Friedman

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