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Thornton Niven Wilder was born on April 17, 1897 in Madison, Wisconsin. His parents, Amos Parker Wilder and Isabella Thornton Wilder, were wealthy and conservative. They imparted to Thornton deep moral and religious values. Thornton spent much of his childhood in Hong Kong, for in 1906 his father was appointed America's Consulate General there. In Hong Kong, he attended Chinese missionary schools and received a good education. After high school graduation, he attended Oberlin College for two years and went on to graduate from Yale University in 1920, where he received a degree in classical literature with honors. While pursuing an advanced degree at Princeton University, Wilder taught at Lawrenceville School, where he remained on staff from 1921 until 1928. He received his master's degree in English in 1926 and then went on to study archeology at the American Academy in Rome. During his student years, Wilder also began to write. He published his first novel, The Cabala, in 1926. He also wrote a play entitled The Trumpet Shall Sound.
After graduating from Princeton, Wilder's literary career began in earnest. He published The Bridge of San Luis Rey in 1927; it became a landmark American novel and brought Wilder popular success. It also won him his first Pulitzer Prize. He then turned his attention to drama and published The Angel that Troubled the Waters in 1928. In 1930, he became a faculty member at the University of Chicago. In the same year, he also published his next novel, The Woman of Andros, and dabbled in scriptwriting for motion pictures. His next novel, Heavens' My Destination, was published in 1935. Wilder then turned his full attention to drama, for which he is now best remembered. He produced Our Town in 1938 and The Skin of Our Teeth in 1942. He won another Pulitzer Prize for the two of them.
In 1948, Wilder published a novel, The Ides of March, about Julius Caesar. Between 1950 and 1951, he delivered the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures in poetry at Harvard. In 1952 he became the chief of the American delegation to the UNESCO Conference of Arts in Venice, Italy. In 1954, he produced the play entitled The Matchmaker, followed by A Life in the Sun in 1955. In 1962, he retired to a small town in Arizona to nurse his frail health. He continued his writing career there and produced two plays in 1964: The Seven Deadly Sins and The Seven Ages of Man. In 1968, he produced Eighth Day, for which he won a National Medal for Literature. Wilder published his last novel, Theophilus North, in 1973. He passed away in 1975 in Hamden, Connecticut, where he had been staying with his sister, Isabel Wilder.
Besides winning several Pulitzer Prizes for Literature, Wilder received many other accolades in his lifetime. In 1963, he received a Presidential Medal. He was also conferred honorary degrees from New York University, Yale University, Kenyon College, College of Wooster, Harvard University, Northeastern University, Oberlin College, University of Hampshire, and University of Zurich.