Living in New York City, trying to make a go of it as a young actor, Augustin J. Correro rode a lot of subways, usually with a book in hand – invariably something by or about legendary gay playwright Tennessee Williams. Eventually Correro came to the conclusion that acting wasn’t for him (“I hated learning lines”) and instead focused his energies on directing and dramaturgy. He went on to pursue graduate studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, where his thesis explored – hardly surprising – performance of Tennessee Williams.
Correro’s work surrounding the playwright led to speaking invites at various Williams literary festivals. At the time, organizers were looking for someone who wasn’t one of the old standard bearers, they wanted to advertise a fresh scholarship. He wowed Williams fans in Provincetown, St. Louis, and New Orleans where he caught the eye of a Pelican Publishing representative who suggested he turn his talk into a book.
How to make an hour-long talk into a 215-page book was daunting. In February 2020, the New Orleans-based Correro wondered how he would manage to make his late summer deadline while also working full time as a public high school teacher and sharing artistic director duties with his husband Nick Shackleford at the Tennessee Williams Theatre Company of New Orleans.
“Then the plague hit and suddenly I had lots of free time,” he recalls. “I was fortunate in that I went into the pandemic with a big creative project that I could do all by myself.”
On a recent Friday evening while walking his dogs (a big Boxer named Gizmo and Edie, a neurotic Pitbull), Correro, 36, took time to chat about his literary idol and his recently published, thoroughly enjoyable book “Tennessee Williams 101.”
WASHINGTON BLADE: Tell me, what differentiates your Williams book from all the others?
AUGUSTIN J. CORRERO: It’s for people who enjoy bullet points and listicles. It equally covers his work and his life, and is full of fascinating behind-the-curtain tidbits about the playwright along with analyses of characters he created and real-life people he moved among. I wanted to give an honest but not pointed account of his life as a gay man in the mid-20th century.
BLADE: When did you first fall for all things Williams?
CORRERO: As a teen I actually didn’t like Williams. Growing up in the Mississippi Delta there’s an expectation to like him by virtue of being from the same area he wrote about. And naturally teens buck expectations.
Then as an undergrad [at Mississippi University for Women], I begrudgingly took a course titled ‘Tennessee Williams’ Women’ because it was being taught by a favorite instructor. She showed me how Williams challenged norms rather than feeding into them. She gave me different lenses to look through and suddenly I saw colors.
BLADE: Is Williams being gay part of the connection?
CORRERO: Being gay and southern definitely sparked an affinity toward Williams for me. Seeing that particular dichotomy—at once considered a contradiction—represented in his work was really validating as a young person. When I was coming out at 19, it was still not easy to be gay in the Deep South. Seeing a successful, humane, brilliant person who came up generations before me became kind of a reminder that I could manage to eke out a fulfilling life, in spite of the challenges.
BLADE: In your book you give synopses of a dozen Williams plays including “Glass Menagerie,” “Streetcar,” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Do you have a favorite work?
CORRERO: I think if I had to pick just one, which is tough, it would probably be “Summer and Smoke.” It reminds me of how for many of us, so much time is wasted in our personal closets, parlors, and chapels trying to materialize a life that isn’t a life. I really feel for Alma [a sensitive minister’s daughter].
BLADE: Williams wrote a lot in New Orleans. Do you feel his energy there?
CORRERO: I do and I think Williams felt the energy of those who came before him. One of the reasons he came to NOLA was to tap into its Bohemian vibe and get out the puritanical chokehold in his own home and live his best gay life.
BLADE: Is your book especially appealing to LGBTQ readers?
CORRERO: I think so, it showcases Williams not only as America’s greatest playwright but also America’s most trailblazing gay playwright. The diversity and breadth of the topics he covered in his work are so relatable and genuinely queer.