Thornton Wilder

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Thornton Niven Wilder (April 17, 1897 — December 7, 1975) was an American playwright and novelist. He received three Pulitzer Prizes, one for his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey and two for his plays Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth, and a National Book Award for his novel The Eighth Day.


Early years

Wilder was born in Madison, Wisconsin, the son of Amos Parker Wilder, a U.S. diplomat, and Isabella Niven Wilder. All of the Wilder children spent part of their childhood in China because of their father's work.

Thornton Wilder's older brother, Amos Niven Wilder, was Hollis Professor of Divinity at the Harvard Divinity School, a noted poet, and foundational to the development of the field theopoetics. Amos was also a nationally ranked tennis player who competed at the Wimbledon tennis championships in 1922. His youngest sister, Isabel Wilder, was an accomplished writer. Both of his other sisters, Charlotte Wilder, a poet, and Janet Wilder Dakin, a zoologist, attended Mount Holyoke College and were excellent students. Additionally, Wilder had a sister and a twin brother, who died at birth.


Wilder began writing plays while at The Thacher School in Ojai, California, where he did not fit in and was teased by classmates as overly intellectual. According to a classmate, "We left him alone, just left him alone. And he would retire at the library, his hideaway, learning to distance himself from humiliation and indifference." His family lived for a time in China, where his sister Janet was born in 1910. He attended the English China Inland Mission Chefoo School at Yantai but returned with his mother and siblings to California in 1912 because of the unstable political conditions in China at the time. Thornton also attended Creekside Middle School in Berkeley, and graduated from Berkeley High School in 1915. Wilder also studied law for two years before dropping out of Purdue University.

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