How to talk to a man planning suicide: Tennessee Williams

In l940, while living on $50 a month, Tennessee Williams had a long talk with his suicidal friend Clark Mills. I think in the self-reporting of this conversation you can see why 20 years of lack of success at writing could not kill Tennessee Williams' belief in his work, nor his desire to live…

[Clark Mills] came over last night and told me quite seriously that he had decided to kill himself within the next year. He is tied to academic job at Cornell which smothers his creative life and he sees no possible escape as his poetry, very fine but completely non-commercial, could never support him. I reasoned with him for a long time about the infinite value of life, of the miracle of simply being alive, and through this I think I convinced myself of it…

I wrote this line yesterday at the beginning of a long poem – 

I want to infect you with the tremendous excitement of living, because I believe that you have the strength to bear it! 

Mills went on to become a professor at the Sorbonne, a highly respected translator of French poetry, and, according to the definitive edition of Williams' Notebooks, an intelligence agent. 

[from Selected Letters, 8/23/40]

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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