BY HOPE HARRINGTON OAKES
Brenda Caradine of Columbus is a force of nature when it comes to organizing the annual Tennessee Williams Tribute. Co-owner and operator of The Lincoln Home and Amzi Love, both bed and breakfasts on the south side of Columbus, she has also been the driving force behind the Tennessee Williams Tribute and Tour of Homes held every September in Columbus. This year’s event will be held from September 3-8. The one-time Production Coordinator of the Symphony and Opera in Chattanooga,Carradine knew that there was an untapped goldmine of literary heritage here in Columbus.
It all began about 30 years ago when a group of Columbus residents consisting of Pat and Sam Koye, Hunter Gholson, and Sid Caradine met at Amzi Love to discuss how they could present Tennessee Williams to the rest of the world in such a way as it could benefit tourism in Columbus. Half of the group wanted to focus on his plays and the others wanted to focus on scholars. Nothing much was accomplished until Caradine entered the picture in 1993. Carradine said she went to the library to look for Tennessee Williams information and found a picture of him visiting Errolton, the home owned by Douglas and Chebie Bateman. It seemed that Tennessee Williams would visit Columbus from time to time and would always be interviewed by Bateman.
Caradine said she was dismayed with the lack of Williams items available in Columbus, so she decided to help by donating Williams memorabilia to the library.
“Now they have a huge collection that the TWT has helped purchase for the Billups-Garth Archives of his posters, playbills, programs autographed by stars, and people have starting bringing those, but I started out by buying things on the internet from a collector in New Orleans,” Caradine said. “The first $1,500 that we earned from the first festival 12 years ago I spent on getting a collection of his playbills and posters for the library. Friends of the Library have become a great friend of mine. In fact, one of our speakers, Dr. Colby Kullman, will be there this year.”
Caradine said she decided to bring the two aspects of the plays and scholars together. Many years ago, she was a guest at a dinner party in New Orleans one evening and began chatting with the gentleman seated across the table. As fate would have it, the gentleman was Dr. Kenneth Holditch, author of “The Last Frontier of Bohemia, Tennessee Williams in New Orleans”, and founder of the Tennessee Williams Festivals in New Orleans and Clarksdale, Mississippi.
Caradine said she went to his home the next morning to discuss the possibility of a festival in Williams’ birthplace. When she arrived, Holditch showed her the front galley proof of his book which happened to be a picture of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Columbus. Caradine asked him come to Columbus for the first festival to be the guest lecturer and sign his book on the front porch of the Tennessee Williams Birthplace. Holditch has been a guest lecturer at the event since its inception.
Every year, along with the series of guest lectures and readings, a production of a Tennessee Williams play is showcased. The first festival produced “The Glass Menagerie”. This year’s production is “Period of Adjustment”. Other activities and events include home tours, guided tours via the double-decker bus, luncheons, the famous “Stella” Shouting Contest, the Third Annual “Streetcar Run” and a sermon on the topic of the play “Period of Adjustment” given by the Reverend Anne Harris at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
“I’ve been pulling people into this wonderful feeling about Tennessee Williams, and what he offers our town as an international figure,” Caradine said. “He could be our ‘Elvis’, and is starting to be. Thank God for the number of people who support us and what we are doing. Never negate volunteer work. I have volunteered for so many things in my life, and now I’m in Columbus, Mississippi, and have been doing the Tennessee Williams Tribute for 12 years as a volunteer. We could not do this without all the volunteers. George Courington has been our Financial Chair for 10 years with assistance from Kazie Richardson. Marthalie Porter is our Administrative Chair. We have 11 actors coming from New York and Massachusetts. Jennifer Miller, Josie Shumake, Jim DelPrince, Pam Bullock and I are all housing them during their stay here. Claude Simpson builds our sets. Keith Gaskin has volunteered to write grants for our foundation. We are so blessed with wonderful people.”
Caradine said one of her favorite parts of the festival has to be the “Stella” Shouting Contest. “It’s so much fun to watch all these people from all over give it their all,” she said. “Putting on the festival is a process, a daily process that I hope has lasting effect on the growth and development of culture of Columbus. It is my pleasure to be a conduit for the city of Columbus through Tennessee Williams to the rest of the world.”