The author of A Streetcar Named Desire and The Glass Menagerie did not set any of his well-known plays in Key West.
But the island was his primary residence from the 1940s until he died in 1983. That’s a lot longer than a certain other famous writer.
“I know everybody always thinks of Hemingway and associates Key West with Ernest,” said Cori Convertito, curator of the Key West Art & Historical Society. “Actually, Tennessee Williams was here for over 30 years, and I think people don’t appreciate that.”
Local appreciation of the playwright has been growing since 2011, when Dennis Beaver and Bert Whitt started the Tennessee Williams Exhibit to mark the 100th anniversary of the writer’s birth.
This month, the exhibit became part of the Key West Art & Historical Society. That group already had three museums on the island — the Custom House, the Key West Lighthouse and Fort East Martello.
Convertito said Williams’ life and work in Key West is worth its own museum because of his long-term residency and involvement with the local community. He was a supporter of local groups like the Key West Library and the animal shelter, she said.
“He’s a kind of major thread in the fabric of Key West,” she said.
Beaver and Whitt collected numerous photographs and press accounts of Williams’ life, as well as some artifacts like the typewriter he used when he was on the island.
The Art & Historical Society has added a new model of his home. The home is privately owned and, unlike Hemingway’s, people still live there. So it’s not a museum, open to the public.
Convertito said the Society plans to keep the Williams exhibit separate, as its own entity.
“All of our museums have a separate identity. We have the three others and they’re pretty individual. And this falls under the same concept,” she said. “We’d like to probably, in the future, incorporate more literary folks into this and make it a little bit more encompassing of the literary history of Key West — with the focus remaining on Tennessee Williams.”
The Society is also working with Beaver and Whitt to continue the annual Tennessee Williams Birthday Celebration in March, with talks, theatrical presentations and parties.
The Tennessee Williams Museum is at 513 Truman Ave., Key West. It is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults; free to children under the age of 6 and to members of the Key West Art & Historical Society.