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Unpublished Tennessee Williams poem discovered

The school where an early play by then-student Tennessee Williams lost a competition has unveiled one of the playwright's unpublished poems.

The university where one of Tennessee Williams's early plays lost a school competition has unveiled a previously unpublished poem by him.

The playwright who wrote The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire composed the 17-line poem while a student at Washington University in St. Louis.

Williams had pencilled the poem, Blue Song, into the back of a blue 1937 exam booklet for his Greek class, a course he was failing. The booklet also contained a series of Greek-to-English and English-to-Greek translations that received grades ranging from A- to D.

"The poem was presumably written at the time of the examination," said Henry Schvey, the Washington University professor – and the school's performing arts chair – who discovered the poem. Schvey, who has studied Williams' life and work, added that the poem has never been published and was entirely unknown to Williams scholars.

The iconic American playwright died in 1983.

"It is clearly the work of a young man who doesn't know his next move in life," Schvey said in a recent statement. "Williams always felt uprooted in St. Louis, a feeling he describes here in very lyrical terms ... I found it very moving."

In February 2004, Schvey co-directed the world premiere of Me, Vashya, an unpublished one-act play that Williams wrote in 1937 for a school competition, where it famously placed fourth. Disappointed and depressed, the young playwright left Washington University shortly after. He later obliterated the piece from his list of works and the school from his 1975 Memoirs.

Schvey found Blue Song last March at Faulkner House Books in New Orleans. He was in the city to deliver a paper at the 2004 Tennessee Williams Scholars' Conference when he visited the prominent bookstore. He asked to see a collection of rare Williams-related materials that wasn't on display and discovered the poem in the exam booklet, which was signed Th. Williams (Thomas Lanier Williams changed his name to Tennessee in 1939).

Schvey informed the university, which quickly moved to buy the booklet – for an unspecified price – and is in the process of having the poem published.

"Williams was very dedicated as a poet," said University of Illinois theatre professor and Williams scholar Allean Hale. As a young man, Hale said, Williams "actually thought of himself primarily as a poet, rather than as a playwright."

Though Williams continued to write poetry throughout his life, as well as novels and short stories, his plays ultimately overshadowed his other writing. He produced more than 30 full-length works, 70 one-act pieces and five screenplays.

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