After O'Neill, Williams is perhaps the best dramatist the United States has yet produced. Born in his grandfather's rectory in Columbus, Mississippi, Williams and his family later moved to St. Louis. There Williams endured many bad years caused by the abuse of his father and his own anguish over his introverted sister, who was later permanently institutionalized. Williams attended the University of Missouri, and, after time out to clerk for a shoe company and for his own mental breakdown, also attended Washington University of St. Louis and the University of Iowa, from which he graduated in 1938. Williams began to write plays in 1935. During 1943 he spent six months as a contract screenwriter for MGM but produced only one script, The Gentleman Caller. When MGM rejected it, Williams turned it into his first major success, The Glass Menagerie (1945). In this intensely autobiographical play, Williams dramatizes the story of Amanda, who dreams of restoring her lost past by finding a gentleman caller for her crippled daughter, and of Amanda's son Tom, who longs to escape from the responsibility of supporting his mother and sister. After The Glass Menagerie,Williams wrote his masterpiece, A Streetcar Named Desire, (1947), along with a steady stream of other plays, among them such major works as Summer and Smoke(1948), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1954), and Suddenly Last Summer (1958). His plays celebrate the "fugitive kind," the sensitive outcasts whose outsider status allows them to perceive the horror of the world and who often give additional witness to that horror by becoming its victims. Stephen S. Stanton has summed up Williams's "virtues and strengths" as "a genius for portraiture, particularly of women, a sensitive ear for dialogue and the rhythms of natural speech, a comic talent often manifesting itself in "black comedy,' and a genuine theatrical flair exhibited in telling stage effects attained through lighting, costume, music, and movements." After The Night of the Iguana (1961), Williams continued to write profusely---and constantly to revise his work---but it became more difficult to get productions of his plays and, if they were produced, to win critical or popular acclaim for them. Williams won the Pulitzer Prize for drama for A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. He won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for these two and for The Glass Menagerie and The Night of the Iguana.
Gore Vidal was born Eugene Luther Gore Vidal Jr. on October 3, 1925 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. He did not go to college but attended St. Albans School in Washington and graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in 1943. He enlisted in the Army, where he became first mate on a freight supply ship in the Aleutian Islands. His first novel, Williwaw, was published in 1946 when he was twenty-one years old and working as an associate editor at the publishing company E. P. Dutton. The City and the Pillar was about a handsome, athletic young Virginia man who gradually discovers that he is homosexual, which caused controversy in the publishing world. The New York Times refused to advertise the novel and gave a negative review of it and future novels. He had such trouble getting subsequent novels reviewed that he turned to writing mysteries under the pseudonym Edgar Box and then gave up novel-writing altogether for a time. Once he moved to Hollywood, he wrote television dramas, screenplays, and plays. His films included I Accuse, Suddenly Last Summer with Tennessee Williams, Is Paris Burning? with Francis Ford Coppola, and Ben-Hur. His most successful play was The Best Man, which he also adapted into a film. He started writing novels again in the 1960's including Julian, Washington, D.C., Myra Breckenridge, Burr, Myron, 1876, Lincoln, Hollywood, Live From Golgotha: The Gospel According to Gore Vidal, and The Golden Age. He also published two collections of essays entitled The Second American Revolution, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism in 1982 and United States: Essays 1952-1992. In 2009, he received the National Book Awards lifetime achievement award. He died from complications of pneumonia on July 31, 2012 at the age of 86.