Monday Morning Water Cooler Talk For Sept. 10, 2012


Brenda Caradine and Tennessee Williams: A Love Affair

Rarely does a person become so committed to a cause that their name becomes synonymous with their passion, but that is the case with our own Brenda Caradine. Her love and devotion for Columbus’ playwright extraordinaire, Tennessee Williams, is unparalleled and that affection has turned into a lifetime of commitment to the writer, poet and extreme personality.

Anchored by an undying desire to ensure the world knows about her hero’s life and accomplishments, Brenda has been one of the driving forces behind the annual Tennessee Williams Tribute since its inception a dozen years ago. Working with people such as Elizabeth Simpson, Gloria Herriott and scholars at Mississippi University for Women, Caradine has been a tireless champion of the cause.

Sitting down to chat with Ms. Caradine, one has to be overwhelmed by her true love for Williams and his work. She is not a causal fan who puts on a festival, but a hardcore enthusiast who understands the importance of a community honoring its greatest literary talent.

As a matter of fact, Tennessee Williams is arguable one of the greatest writers in American history and anything less than a stellar event would be a disservice to the American literary community. Williams is to the art of writing what Presley is to Rock-N-Roll. He is, by far, the intellectual equivalent to Elvis. One just has to have the correct sensibilities to understand the correlation.

And that is Brenda Caradine’s mission.

Speaking with Brenda on a lazy Friday afternoon on the “W” campus, finds her to be at the same time relaxed, excited and ready to go. In other words, it finds Brenda being Brenda. She is the champion of all things Tennessee Williams.

Dressed in pink and ever aware of her public imagine, Caradine attacked each question about Williams with surgical precision.  She knows the answers before the interviewer asks the questions.  She is ready to sell the festival to whoever will listen.

Asked why Tennessee Williams is so important to Columbus, Brenda is ready to answer. “He has brought Columbus three New York Times featured articles. He is America’s greatest playwright.  The winner of two Pulitzers.”

That is where Caradine can stop all detractors of the Williams legend. The simple fact is that Tennessee Williams is one the most accomplished literary forces in American Theater. Period.  End of discussion.

The reality that a man who was born and whose family made an impact in Columbus, wrote two of the greatest examples of artistic literature and cinema, “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” should have every Columbus resident shouting like Stanley Kowalski in the rain. The boyhood home of Williams should be seen a shrine and held in reverence by everyone who has a true understanding of art and the pure pleasure of intellectual endeavors. The house should be a living testament to style over substance.

Caradine continued her recitation about Williams, “He was a poet before he was playwright. His plays were influenced by the fact that his grandfather was an Episcopal Priest. Columbus’ Welcome Center is his boyhood home. There are things [that are in the home] that cannot be found anywhere else.”

Unfortunately for Columbus – unlike Tupelo, who took a two-room “shotgun” house and turned it into a multi-million dollar empire – our legendary star’s home sits silent on most days. Less than 30 years ago, Elvis’ birthplace was nothing more than an empty house with a little old lady sitting in front of it collecting a dollar for the one minute tour. Visit the house now. What a change a little entrepreneurship can make.

Tennessee Williams may never have the overall name recognition of a rock star, but he is a literary giant. A man whose name is recognized all over the world.  A man whose name is synonymous with excellence.

For the narrow-minded and shortsighted, maybe ole’ Tennessee’s lifestyle was a problem. But that would be amazingly shallow.  Elvis, like everyone else, had his problems. But, the little old lady, taking the dollar at his birthplace never mentioned them and never will. She let the music do the talking.

And Columbus should let Tennessee’s writing be his message.  He is a rock star in his own right. He is the American Shakespeare.  He is one of the greatest writers in American history. He is a true son of the American South. He is Columbus’ greatest treasure.

If you don’t think so, don’t tell Brenda Caradine. She knows better. She lives with Tennessee every day.

Joseph B.  St. John


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