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Thornton Wilder (1897–1975)

Author of Our Town

124+ Works 16,423 Members 287 Reviews 22 Favorited

About the Author

One of the most honored and versatile of modern writers, Thornton Wilder combined a career as a successful novelist with work for the theater that made him one of this century's outstanding dramatists. It was an early short novel, however, that first brought him fame. The Bridge of San Luis Rey show more (1927), a bestseller that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1927, is the story of a group of assorted people who happen to be on a bridge in Peru when it collapses. Ingeniously constructed and rich in its philosophical implications about fate and synchronicity, Wilder's book would seem to be the first well-known example of a formula that has become a cliche in popular literature. His attraction to classical themes is manifested in The Woman of Andros (1930), a tragedy about young love in pre-Christian Greece, and The Ides of March (1948), set in the time of Julius Caesar and told in letters and documents covering a long span of years. Heaven's My Destination (1934), is a seriocomic and picaresque story about a young book salesman traveling through the Midwest during the early years of the Great Depression.Theophilus North (1973), Wilder's last novel, disappointed many reviewers, but it provided its author with opportunities to offer some wry observations on the life of the idle rich in Newport during the summer of 1926 and to ponder in the story of his alter ego what might have happened if Wilder had stayed home, so to speak, instead of becoming Thornton Wilder. As a serious writer of fiction, Wilder's main claim rests on The Eighth Day (1967), an intellectual thriller, which the N.Y. Times called "the most substantial fiction of his career." It won the National Book Award for fiction in 1968. (Bowker Author Biography) show less


Works by Thornton Wilder

Our Town (1938) 5,123 copies
The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927) 4,803 copies
Three Plays by Thornton Wilder (1938) 1,226 copies
The Ides of March (1948) 949 copies
The Eighth Day (1967) 690 copies
Theophilus North (1973) 501 copies
The Skin of Our Teeth (1942) 413 copies
Heaven's My Destination (1935) 198 copies
The Cabala (1926) 155 copies
The Matchmaker (1955) 147 copies
Shadow of a Doubt [1943 film] (1943) — Screenwriter — 141 copies
The Woman of Andros (1930) 120 copies
Our Town | The Skin of Our Teeth (1982) — Author — 29 copies
The Long Christmas Dinner (1933) — Author — 29 copies
Pullman Car Hiawatha (1931) 15 copies
Queens of France (1931) 8 copies
The Drunken Sisters (1957) 6 copies
The Seven Deadly Sins (2012) 4 copies
The Ages of Man (2012) 2 copies
Plays 2 copies
Alcestiad (1977) 2 copies
Obras escogidas 2 copies
Lesebuch (1985) 2 copies
Drámák (1981) 2 copies
Drammi brevi 1 copy
Insurgent 1 copy
Our Town (HHH Production) — Author — 1 copy
Someone From Assisi (2014) 1 copy
Idi di marzo 1 copy
The Angel on the Ship (1928) 1 copy
Brother Fire 1 copy
Fanny Otcott 1 copy
Thornton Wilder Stories — Author — 1 copy
Centaurs 1 copy
The Wreck on the 5 25 (2014) 1 copy
Leviathan 1 copy

Associated Works

Oedipus Rex (0429) — Introduction, some editions — 6,647 copies
A Doll's House (1879) — Translator, some editions — 5,431 copies
24 Favorite One Act Plays (1958) — Contributor — 289 copies
Famous American Plays of the 1940s (1900) — Contributor — 238 copies
Hello, Dolly! [1969 film] (1969) — Original play — 217 copies
This Is My Best (1942) — Contributor — 188 copies
Sixteen Famous American Plays (1941) — Playwright — 187 copies
Stories to Remember {complete} (1956) — Contributor — 181 copies
Stories to Remember, Volume II (1956) — Contributor — 127 copies
One Act: Eleven Short Plays of the Modern Theater (1961) — Contributor — 105 copies
Contemporary Drama: 15 Plays (1959) — Contributor — 70 copies
10 Short Plays (1963) — Contributor — 65 copies
The Victors (1984) — Translator, some editions — 56 copies
Jacob's Dream (1946) — Introduction, some editions — 47 copies
Contemporary Drama - 11 Plays (1956) — Contributor — 46 copies
Best American Plays: Fourth Series, 1951-1957 (1958) — Contributor — 43 copies
The Modern Theatre, Volume 4 (1956) — Contributor — 36 copies
Hello, Dolly! A Musical Play (1964) — Original story — 35 copies
XII Twelve Short Novels (1961) — Contributor — 34 copies
50 Best Plays of the American Theatre [4-volume set] (1969) — Contributor — 33 copies
15 International One-Act Plays (1969) — Contributor — 32 copies
Theatre Experiment (1967) — Contributor — 29 copies
13 Plays of Ghosts and the Supernatural (1990) — Contributor — 28 copies
Our Town [1940 film] (2000) — Original play — 28 copies
The Signet Book of Short Plays (2004) — Contributor — 28 copies
Pulitzer Prize Reader (1961) — Contributor — 27 copies
Hello, Dolly! Original 1964 Broadway Cast Recording (1964) — Original play — 27 copies
The Bridge of San Luis Rey [2004 film] (2004) — Original book — 24 copies
Twentieth-Century American Drama (2000) — Contributor — 22 copies
The Twelve Plays of Christmas (2000) — Contributor — 16 copies
Our Town [2003 TV movie] (2003) — Original play — 15 copies
Los Premios Pulitzer de novela (I) (1970) — Contributor — 8 copies
Mr. North [1988 film] (2003) — Original play — 5 copies
The Matchmaker [1958 film] (1958) — Original play — 5 copies
Thornton Wilder's Our Town [1989 TV episode] (2005) — Play — 4 copies
50 Best Plays of the American Theatre, Volume 2 (1969) — Contributor — 3 copies
The Undying Past (1961) — Contributor — 2 copies
Teatro Norteamericano contemporaneo — Contributor — 2 copies
The Bridge of San Luis Rey [1944 film] — Original novel — 1 copy
Short Plays for Reading and Acting (1970) — Contributor — 1 copy
Teatru American Contemporan vol. 1 — Contributor — 1 copy


(83) 19th century (83) 20th century (199) American (193) American literature (472) Ancient Greece (80) anthology (205) classic (494) classic literature (73) classics (625) death (73) drama (1,647) feminism (78) fiction (1,989) Greece (92) Greek (197) Greek literature (97) historical fiction (179) Library of America (99) literature (604) Norway (72) Norwegian literature (77) novel (353) own (106) Peru (188) play (764) plays (979) Pulitzer (100) Pulitzer Prize (153) read (260) script (106) short stories (76) Sophocles (80) South America (68) theatre (658) Thornton Wilder (97) to-read (639) tragedy (214) unread (82) USA (83)

Common Knowledge

Canonical name
Wilder, Thornton
Legal name
Wilder, Thornton Niven
Date of death
Burial location
Mount Carmel Cemetery, Hamden, Connecticut, USA
Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Place of death
Hamden, Connecticut, USA
Places of residence
Chefoo, China
Ojai, California, USA
Berkeley, California, USA
Douglas, Arizona, USA
Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Hamden, Connecticut, USA
Princeton University (MA|French|1926)
Yale University (BA|1920)
Oberlin College
American Academy in Rome
Berkeley High School
Creekside Middle School (show all 8)
China Inland Mission Chefoo School
The Thacher School
teacher (show all 12)
short-story writer
corporal (U.S. Army Coast Artillery Corps, WWI)
lieutenant colonel (U.S. Army Air Force Intelligence, WWII)
Wilder, Amos Niven (brother)
Wilder, Isabel (sister)
Dakin, Janet Wilder (sister)
Wilder, A. Tappan (nephew)
Wilder, Charlotte (sister)
American Academy of Arts and Letters
Modern Language Association of America (honorary member)
Authors Guild
Actors Equity Association
Hispanic Society of America (corresponding member)
Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Literatur (West Germany) (show all 20)
Bavarian Academy of Fine Arts (honorary member)
Century Association
Players (honorary member)
Graduate Club
Elizabethan Club
Alpha Delta Phi
United States Army (WWI ∙ WWII)
Harvard University (Charles Eliot Norton professor)
University of Chicago (professor)
Institut de Cooperation Intellectuélle ( [1937])
United States Department of State
International PEN Club Congress ( [1941])
UNESCO Conference of Arts ( [1952])
Lawrenceville School, Lawrenceville, New Jersey, USA (teacher)
Awards and honors
Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963)
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1927)
Pulitzer Prize for Drama (1938, 1943)
Chevalier, Legion of Honor (1951)
National Book Committee's National Medal for Literature (1965)
Edward MacDowell Medal (1960) (show all 21)
National Book Award for fiction (1968)
Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (1957)
Friedenspreis, Deutschen Buchhandels (1957)
Sonderpreis (1959)
Goethe medal (1959)
Gold Medal for Fiction, American Academy of Arts and Letters (1952)
Brandeis University Creative Arts Award for theater and film (1959-60)
Chicago Literary Hall of Fame (2013)
Medal of the Order of Merit (Peru)
Order of Merit (West Germany)
Century Association Art Medal
Honorary member of Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.)
Legion of Merit
Bronze Star
Alpha Delta Phi
Short biography
Thornton Wilder was born on April 17, 1897 in Madison, Wisconsin to Isabella (Niven) Wilder and Amos Parker Wilder. He attended Oberlin College (1915-1917), received an A.B. from Yale University (1920), attended the American Academy in Rome (1920-1921), and received an A.M. from Princeton University (1926). He served in the U.S. Army from 1942-1945, receiving the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star.

Wilder is best known as an author of novels, plays, and screenplays. Among his many published novels and plays, he wrote three Pulitzer Prize winning works: The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1928), Our Town (1938), and The Skin of Our Teeth (1943). He also won the Gold Medal for fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1952), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963), the National Book Committee's National Medal for Literature (1965), and the National Book Award (1968).

Wilder was a lecturer in comparative literature at the University of Chicago (1930-1936), a visiting professor at the University of Hawaii (1935), and Charles Eliot Norton Professor of poetry at Harvard University (1950-1951).

Wilder received honorary degrees from New York University, Yale University, Kenyon College, College of Wooster, Harvard University, Northeastern University, Oberlin College, University of New Hampshire, and University of Zurich.

Thornton Wilder died in 1975



Life isn't fair. It's a lesson our parents start trying to teach us young, usually, but it takes a long time to really stick. Sometimes good things happen to bad people for no reason, and the reverse is even more infuriatingly true. It might sound bleak, but this kind of thinking actually makes me feel better when bad things happen. It's nothing personal, it's just the way things are. But to Brother Juniper in Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey, that explanation isn't good enough. Brother Juniper is a monk, and in his eyes, people die for a reason. So when five people fall to their deaths when a Peruvian bridge collapses, he gathers their stories to try to puzzle out why.

The five are are an older woman estranged from her beloved daughter, that woman's young helpmeet, a young man mourning the loss of his identical twin brother, a stage manager who made an actress famous, and the actress' son. It's a brief little novella, but it's actually more a series of interconnected short stories than anything else. There are four stories going on: the story of the fall of the bridge and its effect on the local populace, the story of the woman and her companion, the story of the twin, and the story of the manager and the actress' son. The people on the bridge, far from being sinners cast down by a vengeful deity, were for the most part flawed but fundamentally good people who had experienced sorrow but were about to make a turn into happiness. What divine justice is there in that?

Even Brother Juniper can't see any. But while the mysteries of life and death may not be revealed by the story of those who perished with the bridge, what really comes through in these stories is love. The love of a parent for her child, the affection between companions, the love of siblings, romantic love, unrequited love...it actually reminds me of Love, Actually (which I know some people wish would vanish entirely from the earth, and definitely has issues, but I attach a lot of sentimental value to) in the way that it highlights the bonds between people. At the end, it's love that moves us, no matter what form that love takes.

This is a small book with a big reputation, and I...didn't really get the hype? Yes, it was good and surprisingly thought-provoking considering its length, but I wouldn't have identified it as a literary classic if I didn't already know it was exactly that going in, if you know what I mean. It was definitely a quality piece of writing, but it wasn't...special. I would be willing to bet that within a year I will have forgotten that I ever read it. But it is a classic, so it's apparently been very meaningful to some people and it's definitely an enjoyable, quick read, so no reason not to try it out if you're curious!
… (more)
ghneumann | 119 other reviews | Jun 14, 2024 |
A play in three acts, this is the story of George Gibbs and Emily Webb in Grover's Corner, New Hampshire early in May 1901. The set is sparse, with two tables on opposite sides of the stage representing the kitchens of the Gibbs and Webb homes. There is also a ladder that represents the upper floor of the houses. There is a Stage Manager who narrates the action and occasionally steps into the play's action himself. The play follows the life cycle of George and Emily and their families from their childhood, marriage, responsibility, birth, and death. The action is normal every day activities such as the milkman delivering milk, women going and coming from choir practice, George and Emily coming home from school and doing homework. There are few props, with most activities being pantomimed by the actors.… (more)
baughga | 68 other reviews | Mar 24, 2024 |
The last time I read this was in AP English back in 1983. 😳 After reading TOM LAKE, I had to revisit it, and I'm so glad I did. I remember finding it pointless at the tender and stupid age of 17. What the hell was wrong with me? Such a poignant reminder to carpe diem--especially the most mundane moments of our lives because going about our daily business is the life of living and we must cherish every single second. Thanks, TW, for the reminder.
crabbyabbe | 68 other reviews | Mar 15, 2024 |
The Eighth Day is a 1967 novel by Thornton Wilder. Set in a mining town in southern Illinois, the plot revolves around John Barrington Ashley, who is accused of murdering his neighbor Breckenridge Lansing. The novel was written over the course of twenty months while Wilder was living alone in Douglas, Arizona. The Eighth Day was the 1968 winner of the National Book Award.
RedeemedRareBooks | 12 other reviews | Mar 6, 2024 |


1940s (1)
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AP Lit (1)
1930s (1)
1920s (1)


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Associated Authors

Alma Reville Screenwriter
Sally Benson Screenwriter
Tappan Wilder Afterword, Introduction
John Gassner Contributor
Milan Bozic Cover designer
Eric Fuentecilla Cover designer
Gerd Grimm Cover artist
Dídac Teixidor Translator
Simon Koene Illustrator
Laura Colan Cover Photographer
Maurice Rémon Traduction
Julie Vatain Traduction
J. M. McNeill Introduction
Lawrence Butcher Illustrator
Janez Gradišnik Translator
Maarten de Jong jr Illustrator
Robert Nix Cover designer
Maugham William Illustrator
L. De Bosis Traduttore
Sándor Filep Illustrator
Sam Waterson Narrator
Rockwell Kent Illustrator
Kay Boyle Introduction
Mark Cohen Cover designer
Monteiro Lobato Translator
Clare Leighton Illustrator
Dan Reed Cover artist
Granville Hicks Introduction
Jean Charlot Illustrator
Frank Martin Illustrator
Enn Soosaar TÕlkija.
Peter Bergsma Translator
Brigitte Jakobeit Übersetzer
Ines Buhofer Nachwort
Amy Drevenstedt Illustrator
Russell Banks Foreword
Alex Tsao Illustrator
Piper Goodeve Narrator
Fernanda Pivano Translator
Jane Copland Narrator
Ernest Folch Translator
Morag Sims Narrator
Brooks Atkinson Introduction
Gary Furlong Narrator
Kurt Vonnegut Foreword
Peter Noble Narrator
Ernest Riera Translator
Derek Perkins Narrator
Joan Walker Narrator
Malcolm Cowley Introduction
Hans Sahl Translator
Vappu Roos Translator
John Guare Introduction
Wilhelm Rossi Foreword
F. J. O'Neil additional materials
Willi Klar Photographer
Henning Boehlke Cover designer
Isabel Wilder Foreword


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