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Call for Articles: “Revisiting Tennessee Williams’s ‘Weird Tales’”

Special Issue of the JSSE on Tennessee Williams’s Short Fiction (No. 86, Spring 2026)
Deadline for abstract submissions: 30 September 2024

Presentation

What is it that makes Tennessee Williams such an unpredictable artist, even today, more than forty years after his death? While revivals of his most famous plays continue to be staged around the world, the bulk of his unpublished work still keeps scholars on their toes, opening up new vistas for research and extending the horizons of interpretation to yet unforeseen lengths. Among the surprises Williams recently sprung on researchers are his numerous paintings and drawings which, like the re-evaluation of his late plays in the 1990s, add extra layers of complexity to a portrait of the artist that defies any sense of closure.

Even more recently, in 2023, a collection of seven previously unpublished early stories, Caterpillar Dogs: and Other Early Stories, reignited interest in Williams’s fiction thanks to the editing work of Tom Mitchell for New Directions. Fiction writing is indeed a side of Williams’s work that has been mostly shunned by scholarship. While a number of academic articles have focused on some stories, most notably the subversive and erotically charged “One Arm” (1948) and “Desire and the Black Masseur” (1948), only one full-length study of the stories has been published to this day: entitled Tennessee Williams: A Study of the Short Fiction, it was written in 1988 by Dennis Vannatta. Since then, the silence on Williams’s stories has only been broken occasionally by noteworthy articles on specific stories, like Mauricio D. Aguilera Linde’s 2010 exploration of the joyful celebration of individual freedom in “Two on a Party” (1954) or Emmanuel Vernadakis’s 2019 insightful analysis of “The Yellow Bird” (1947). At other times, Williams scholars have used the stories as peripheral texts to shed light on the creative process for subsequent theatre plays or praised them for their autobiographical value, as the “true memoirs of Tennessee Williams” (Vidal, “Introduction” xx).

Yet, since the publication of “The Vengeance of Nitocris” in 1928, Williams’s stories never stopped spinning their imaginative webs in the nooks and crannies of his work. Weird Tales, the horror fiction pulp magazine in which Williams’s first story was published, bears a title that already places “The Vengeance of Nitocris” within the Southern gothic tradition in which Williams has been traditionally included. Although it is true that the story can be read as a dark romantic rewriting of Herodotus’s Histories, the narrator’s ironic voice disrupts this interpretation through a final intrusion into the text that is not unlike the breaking of the fourth wall on stage. Such narrative shifts are but one example of Williams’s capacity for eluding facile categorizations, for making his tales “weird” in its widest sense of strange, eccentric, fantastic, grotesque and, in a last-but-not-least sense, queer.

As diverse in subjects and experimental in style as they are, the stories immerse readers in a world that is at once deeply poetic, wildly original and outrageously imaginative. After winning the first prize for his story “Stella for Star” in 1935, Williams wrote a thank-you letter to one of the members of the St. Louis Writers Guild in which he tried to account for the poetic quality that makes all of his stories alive with something excessive yet subdued, both wild and fragile: “It is full of bombastic irrelevancies, the characters aren’t logically developed, and the romantic spirit… is almost unbearably sweet. But I was only trying to create a single, poetic effect and I may have succeeded a little in doing that” (qtd. in Mitchell xi).

Investigating the workings of Williams’s unique sense of poetry in his fiction might prove a promising starting point, one that is bound to drown the thorough reader in the depths of self-contradicting ideas. For, isn’t it there, in that place where binaries no longer hold sway, where the transformative power of words pushes limits ever further, that poetry originates? The disruptions, dislocations, digressions and other subversive devices at work in Williams’s stories all work surreptitiously towards offering narrative space to a previously silenced voice—that of the outcast, the repressed, the freak—that still resonates today with the force of the revolutionary. It is a voice that has to be traced back in the breaks and gaps of language, a “transient disturbance” as well as a “queerness” inside the text that David Savran theorized as a subject yet to come. Williams’s stories are revolutionary works of art insofar as they “design a revolution that is so finely woven into the fabric of the work that it is everywhere perceptible only as the imperceptible, as a radiant utopia yet to come” (Savran 168).

Thematic Approaches

It is that mysterious, still largely undiscovered country that this collection of articles offers to explore through a selection of innovative readings of Williams’s fiction. Suggested areas of research include, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Narrative voice and narrative strategies.

  • Repeated motifs, images, settings, characters, situations, etc.

  • Intertextuality.

  • The influence of other forms of arts (comics, cartoons, painting, cinema, music…).

  • Myths and mythological figures.

  • Animal figures and the non-human.

  • Landscape and nature (ecocritical perspectives)

  • Gender and racial representations.

Practical Information

Proposals of 400 to 500 words should be sent by 30 September 2024 along with a bibliography, and a short bio-bibliography to both sophie.maruejouls@live.fr and laura.torres@uam.es.

Completed articles will be due by 30 June 2025.

Works Cited

Mitchell, Tom. “Introduction.” Tennessee Williams. The Caterpillar Dogs and Other Early Stories. Ed. Tom Mitchell. New York: New Directions, 2023. Print.

Savran, David. Communists, Cowboys and Queers: The Politics of Masculinity in the Work of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. Minneapolis: UP of Minnesota, 1992. Print.

Vannatta, Dennis. Tennessee Williams: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1988. Print.

Vidal, Gore. “Introduction.” Tennessee Williams, Tennessee Williams: Collected Stories. New York: New Directions, 1985. Print.

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