About the Festival
Tennessee Williams, America’s great playwright and Pulitzer Prize winning-author of poetry, novels, and screenplays, spent his childhood in Clarksdale, and his works were greatly influenced by the area and its people. The annual Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival was inaugurated in 1993 as a celebration of his genius and the region’s cultural heritage that he immortalized in dramas including The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Summer and Smoke, Eccentricities of a Nightingale, A Streetcar Named Desire, Orpheus Descending, Battle of Angels, Baby Doll, This Property Is Condemned and many others.
Tom "Tennessee" Williams spent a great deal of his impressionable childhood in Clarksdale where his maternal grandfather, the Reverend Walter Dakin, was rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church for 16 years (1917-1933). Tom, his sister Rose and their mother, Edwina Dakin Williams, lived with his grandparents in the church rectory while Tom’s father traveled as a salesman.
In 2003 the church rectory was designated a Mississippi Literary Landmark by the Friends of Mississippi Libraries and Friends of Libraries U.S.A.
Young Tom Williams attended first and fourth grades at Oakhurst Elementary School; later when his parents moved to St. Louis, he returned frequently to visit his grandparents, and as an adult he kept close ties with Coahoma County.
Many of his works refer to actual places in Coahoma County and some of his most famous characters – Blanche, Brick, Baby Doll, Stella, and Amanda Wingfield are named for real Clarksdale residents.
The Cutrer Mansion, built by Blanche Clark Cutrer (only daughter of Clarksdale’s founder John Clark) and John W. Cutrer, was a site he visited often with his grandfather on parish calls. The festival was headquartered for the first time in the Cutrer Mansion in 2005, and the aura and ambience of this historic setting contributes significantly to the event’s success.
Although Tennessee later lived in St. Louis, New Orleans, New York, and Key West, his Mississippi Delta childhood was a strong influence on his writings. In 1995 the United States Postal Service selected the festival to host the unveiling of the Tennessee Williams postage stamp, and the festival continues to be a significant cultural event.
Each year the festival focuses attention on one play and invites renowned Williams scholars, theatre professionals including actors, directors, playwrights, and artists to present lectures, readings, and dramatizations. Actors and drama groups present one-act plays on front porches of homes in the historic neighborhood where receptions also take place. The festival also sponsors a highly competitive acting contest at Coahoma Community College for high school students who vie for trophies and more than $3,000 in cash prizes for their school drama departments. The contest is judged by out-of-town theatre professionals who also direct acting workshops. Winners recreate their performances at a Saturday festival finale where they are critiqued, applauded and entertained with supper and a dance to music by a Mississippi Delta blues band.