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Born in the city called the Berkley of the Midwest, Thornton Wilder introduced himself to the world in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 17, 1897. He became famous as a novelist and playwright and is best known for writing The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Our Town, and The Skin of Our Teeth. His twin brother died at birth, and Wilder grew up with an older brother, Amos Niven, and three younger sisters, Charlotte, Isabel, and Janet.
As a member of a talented and industrious family, Wilder lived for a while in China. Amos Parker Wilder, a newspaper owner and editor, was U.S. consul general to Hong Kong and Shanghai, while Wilder's older brother, Amos Niven, was a well regarded professor of New Testament scholarship, an inspirational essayist, and a distinguished poet. He was also well regarded by the ladies around the tennis courts.
Of Wilder's sisters, Charlotte became a professor of English and an award-winning poet. Isabel was the author of three popular novels and the curator of Yale University's theater archive. The youngest Wilder sibling, Janet Wilder Dakin, was a professor of biology, an author, and a noted environmentalist.
As a boy, young Wilder grew up near a university theater that performed Greek dramas, and his mother let him participate as a member of the chorus. He never forgot the experience and vowed that someday he would write for the theater.
When he finished high school after moving to California, Wilder attended Oberlin College in Ohio, after which he received his undergraduate degree at Yale and his graduate degree at Princeton. He wrote his first play, The Trumpet Shall Sound (1926), while he was still a Yalie.
being graduated from college, Wilder's father sent his son to Rome, where
he worked on an archaeological dig at the site of ancient Roman ruins.
He later said, "Once you have swung a pickax that will reveal the curve of
a street four thousand years covered over which was once an active, much-traveled
highway, you are never quite the same again." The experience inspired
him to begin writing fiction about characters caught up in the forces of fate
and history. His second novel,
The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), was about a group of unrelated
characters who are all killed by the collapse of a bridge in Peru. It
was a roaring critical success, and it earned him the
By the time Thornton Wilder died on December 7, 1975, at his home in Hamden, Connecticut, he was already an American icon, an internationally famous playwright, and a novelist. To this day, his works are read, performed, and appreciated by audiences worldwide.
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