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Newly Discovered Tennessee Williams Story Is Finally Published


In 1952, Tennessee Williams wrote a very short story about a man on a train. And then, "The Summer Woman" vanished. Andrew Gulli, managing editor of The Strand Magazine, came across a reference to the story and thought, what is this? With some help, he tracked it down to the Houghton Library at Harvard. And despite his very real excitement, Gulli told me that whenever he comes across one of these lost titles, it's an ordeal.

ANDREW GULLI: Every time we'll publish a story from one of these legendary authors, we can have one of the following things happen. No. 1, you're very excited about this story. You're reading through it, and then the story just suddenly ends. And you say to yourself, oh, my God, this is just horrible. Or you contact a few of the scholars and they say, well, this was published in the Lexington Courier in 1921. I'm like, oh, no. So - and then a few other times, you'll have an estate that will just be like, you know, we think that all the works by this author that should have been published were published, so you can't publish it.

In this case, after I finished this story, I said to myself, only Tennessee Williams in 10 pages can write a story that deals with hypocrisy, love, war, the complex nature of occupying countries, jealousy. And then after that, I contacted the estate, and they were just very, very kind enough to give us permission to publish this.

KING: On its surface, most of this story is just a guy on a train. Tell me about this man and what we know about him and how he comes to lead us to these bigger themes.

GULLI: The main character is a professor, and he travels once a year to Italy. And he has a relationship with a prostitute, and, you know, he'll pay her way for, like, four months after his trip to Italy, and then he'll forget about her. And he'll have the hope that the money he's given her has taken her off the streets. And the main character, the professor, he sort of represents the United States and how Tennessee Williams felt the U.S. didn't put enough to bolstering some of these countries that were destroyed by World War II. And he was saying, we can't have the attitude that we'll invest a little into them, into trying to prop them up, and then we'll just forget about it because these countries will fall prey to extremists or communists. And looking at this world situation now, the story, in my view, is very, very prescient.

KING: Yes. As I was reading this, I did have flashes of what we've been reporting over the last few weeks about Afghanistan, and that was remarkable because this was written 69 years ago. Let me ask you, what do you think is the literary significance of this very short story?

GULLI: When we talk about Tennessee Williams, we think of the faded grandeur of the South and old patriarchs with their well-worn suspenders. But this is the foreign policy side, where he's seeing how a country that was on a very promising path after they were - got rid of Mussolini and the Nazis, how they were prey to falling into instability because the United States did not do enough for them. And in only 3,000 words, he's able to get that idea across. And there have been authors who have taken a whole novel to get that complex idea across to readers.

KING: Andrew Gulli, managing editor of The Strand. Thank you, Andrew, for being with us.

GULLI: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF BALMORHEA'S "MARCH 4, 1831") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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