Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Born Thornton Niven Wilder in Madison, Wisconsin, he was the son of a U.S. diplomat, spending part of his childhood in China. He began writing plays while at The Thacher School in Ojai, California, where he did not fit in and was teased by classmates as over-intellectual. According to a classmate, “We left him alone, just left him alone. And he would retire to the library, his hideaway, learning to distance himself from humiliation and indifference."
After serving in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War I, he attended Oberlin College before earning his B.A. at Yale University in 1920. Six years later, his first novel The Cabala was published. In 1927, The Bridge of San Luis Rey brought commercial success and his first Pulitzer Prize in 1928. From 1930 to 1937 he taught at the University of Chicago.
Wilder was a lifelong friend of Gertrude Stein. His close friend Samuel M. Steward is considered to have been his lover.
Wilder was the author of Our Town, a popular play (and later film) set in fictional Grover's Corner, New Hampshire. Our Town employs a choric narrator called the "Stage Manager" and a minimalist set to underscore the universality of human experience. It won the 1938 Pulitzer Prize. Wilder suffered from writer's block while writing the last act.
His play The Skin of Our Teeth debuted in 1943 with Fredric March and Tallulah Bankhead in the lead roles. Again, the themes are familiar--war, pestilence, economic depression, fire. Ignoring the limits of time and space, just four characters and three acts are used to review the history of mankind.
Wilder authored seven novels, three plays, as well as a variety of shorter works including essays, one act plays, and scholarly articles.
Wilder was interred in the Mount Carmel Cemetery in Hamden, Connecticut.
Novels by Thornton Wilder
- The Cabala (1926)
- The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927)
- Woman of Andros (1930)
- Heaven's My Destination (1935)
- Ides of March (1948)
- The Eighth Day (1967)
- Theophilus North (1973)
- The Alcestiad, or A Life In The Sun (1977)
- The Library of Congress: "Today in History: April 17"
- Wilder at The Thacher School; Wilder as closeted gay
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