“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” – Thornton Wilder
Born in Madison, Wis., on this date in 1897, Wilder was a playwright and novelist extraordinaire. He won 3 Pulitzer Prizes— 1 for the novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey and 2 for his plays Our Town (perhaps one of the “most performed” in American Theatre) and The Skin of Our Teeth. He also won a U.S. National Book Award for his novel The Eighth Day.
Born into one of America’s most “accomplished” families – his parents were noted writers and diplomats and all 4 of his siblings were leading lights in their chosen professions ranging from education to archaeology to religion – Wilder began writing as a high school student. Beyond his writing Wilder was fluent in 5 languages, having lived and studied abroad as a diplomat's son. With his combined writing and language skills, he played a key role in the U.S. Military Intelligence field during World War II rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
His book The Bridge at San Luis Rey is considered the progenitor of the modern disaster epic (where a single disaster intertwines the victims, whose lives are then explored by means of flashbacks to events before the disaster). Published in 1928 it has been named one of the top 100 novels of the 20th century and been continuously in print for 90 years. His many theatrical successes began with 1938's Our Town, and while he continued writing novels, it was playwriting that held most of his interest from that point forward.
“Seek the lofty,” Wilder once said, “by reading, hearing and seeing great work at some moment each and every day.”
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