Born in Madison, Wisconsin, and educated at Yale and Princeton, Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) was an accomplished novelist and playwright whose works explore the connection between the commonplace and the cosmic dimensions of human experience. The Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of his seven novels, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928, and his next-to-last novel, The Eighth Day received the National Book Award (1968). Two of his four major plays garnered Pulitzer Prizes, Our Town (1938) and The Skin of Our Teeth (1943). His play, The Matchmaker ran on Broadway for 486 performances (1955-1957), Wilder’s Broadway record, and was later adapted into the record-breaking musical Hello, Dolly! Wilder also enjoyed enormous success with many other forms of the written and spoken word, among them translation, acting, opera librettos, lecturing, teaching and film (his screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1943 psycho-thriller, Shadow of a Doubt remains a classic to this day). Letter writing held a central place in Wilder’s life, and since his death, three volumes of his letters have been published. Wilder’s many honors include the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the National Book Committee’s Medal for Literature. On April 17, 1997, the centenary of his birth, the US Postal Service unveiled the Thornton Wilder 32-cent stamp in Hamden, Connecticut, his official address after 1930 and where he died on December 7, 1975.
Wilder continues to be read and performed around the world. Our Town is performed at least once each day somewhere in this country, with his other major dramas and shorter plays not far behind. In 2008, Our Town and The Bridge of San Luis Rey were selected as a joint choice for the NEA’s “Big Read” Program. In recent years Wilder’s works have also inspired a growing number of adaptations, among them an opera based on Our Town (music by Ned Rorem, libretto by J.D. McClatchy) and a dramatized version of his novel, Theophilus North (Matt Burnett). Reflecting the renewed interest in Wilder, the Thornton Wilder Society sponsored the first international conference on Wilder in fall 2008. For more information, visit thorntonwilder.com.