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Figures

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Mississippi Historic Figures

Tennessee Williams
1911-83: Playwright; born in Columbus, Mississippi. From an old Tennessee family (he adopted his first name by 1939 while in New Orleans), he was raised under the influence of his clergyman-grandfather. Moving with his family to St. Louis in 1913, he went on to several colleges, graduating from the State University of Iowa in 1938. He moved around the country for many years, working at odd jobs while he wrote short plays and getting occasional productions in community theaters; in 1943 he briefly worked as a scriptwriter for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He gained sudden success with the New York production of The Glass Menagerie (1945) and his next and greatest success came with A Streetcar Named Desire (1947), which won a Pulitzer Prize. Although Williams' life was marked by personal disarray, mental stress, and drug addiction, he enjoyed long-term relationships with male companions and continued to be productive. In 1968 he converted to Catholicism. His later plays include Summer and Smoke (1948), The Rose Tattoo (1950), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955, Pulitzer Prize), Sweet Bird of Youth (1959), and Night of the Iguana (1961). He also published two novels and a fair amount of poetry. Several of his plays were made into successful movies, but his later works were not well received and he became disaffected from the New York professional theater. He died by choking on the cap of a bottle of pills. His best work is distinguished by a poetry, intensity, and compassion that guarantee him a permanent place as a major artist-dramatist.
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Leontyne Price
1927-Present: Soprano; born in Laurel, Mississippi. Price studied at Juilliard in New York before finding success on Broadway in Four Saints in Three Acts in 1952 and the female lead in Porgy and Bess the same year. In 1954 she presented a recital in New York's Town Hall, where she premiered Samuel Barber's Hermit Songs.She went on to an outstanding international career on both operatic and concert stages, especially admired for her Italian opera roles; her Metropolitan Opera debut came in 1961. For a time she was married to baritone William Warfield.
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William Faulkner
1897-1962: Writer; born in New Albany, Mississippi. He lived in nearby Oxford, Miss., nearly all his life, writing, farming, and hunting. The scanty education he had after the tenth grade included fitful attendance at the University of Mississippi after his World War I service with the Canadian Air Force. (The war ended while he was still in training.) A writer from adolescence, he published his first poems in his early twenties, and during the next few years spent time in New Orleans, where he was encouraged by Sherwood Anderson. When his first book of poems, The Marble Faun (1924), was published, he added the "u" to his name. He traveled to Europe later in 1925, before returning to Oxford. His first published novels were Soldier's Pay (1926) and Mosquitoes (1927). The Sound and the Fury (1929) was the first of the complex stream-of-consciousness novels for which he was to become known. In the same year, Sartoris was published, the first of a series of novels centered on the Sartoris family in a fictionalized Oxford. He married Estelle Oldham Franklin in 1929. Over the years he created a historical saga centered on five families in his fictional Yoknapatawpha County. His famously complex and difficult prose brought to life characters of the South, by turns degenerate, cruel, and macabre, and a major theme of his work was the toll taken by white Southerners' treatment of African-Americans. Other early fiction included As I Lay Dying (1930), Sanctuary (1931), Light in August (1932), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), The Unvanquished (1938), The Hamlet (1940), and Go Down Moses (1942). Never that popular, he had to earn money by writing Hollywood screenplays in the 1930s, and, by that time, was known to drink heavily and habitually. By the middle 1940s his critical reputation was in eclipse; his rediscovery as a major writer began with the publication of The Portable Faulkner (1946), edited by Malcolm Cowley. Faulkner won the 1949 Nobel Prize in literature; his Collected Stories (1950) won a National Book Award (1951); and A Fable (1954) won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize (1955). He was writer in residence at the University of Virginia (1957; 1958). Later works include The Town (1957), The Mansion (1959), and The Reivers (1962). He died of a heart attack in Mississippi.
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Charles Evers
1922-Present: Civil rights leader, mayor; born in Decatur, Mississippi. After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean conflict, he took over his family's considerable business interests in Philadelphia, Miss. (mid-1950s) and then moved to Chicago (1957) where he was a successful nightclub owner, real estate agent, and disc jockey. He returned to Mississippi after the assassination of his brother Medgar Evers (1963) and assumed Medgar's post as field director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Mississippi. He was elected mayor of the town of Fayette, Miss. (1969);b1the first black mayor elected in a racially mixed southern town since the Reconstruction;b1and published his autobiography (1971). He was reelected mayor (1973) after an unsuccessful attempt for the governorship on an independent ticket (1971). In 1978 he failed in his bid to become a U.S. senator.
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James Earl Jones
1931-Present: Stage/film/television actor; born in Arkabutla, Mississippi. Son of an ex-prizefighter-actor, he attended the University of Michigan, and after Army service, studied acting in New York, making his Broadway debut in 1957. After his first major role in The Great White Hope (1966), he went on to star in a wide variety of classic and contemporary plays. His varied film career included lending his distinctive resonant voice (only) to Darth Vader in Star Wars (1977).
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