Thornton Niven Wilder was born on April 17, 1897 in Madison, Wisconsin the son of an American diplomat, Amos Parker Wilder and Isabella Niven wilder. As a result of his father’s occupation, Mr. Wilder spent a good part of his childhood in China.
Wilder began writing while he was a student at The Thatcher School in Ojai, California. At this school he was tortured and teased constantly by his classmates for being overly intelligent.
Wilder found refuge in the library where books and writing became his refuge from the continued verbal assaults by his fellow classmates.
While living in China, he attended the English China Inland Mission Chefoo School in Yantai but was forced to leave in 1912 with his mother and siblings as the political situation in China became dangerous.
He also attended the Creekside Middle School in Berkeley, California and graduated from Berkeley High School in 1915.
Wilder attempted to study law at Purdue University but dropped out.
Wilder served in the Coast Guard during World War I and afterwards attended Oberlin College. In 1920, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Princeton University in 1920.
While at Princeton Wilder joined the Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity where he worked on improving his writing skills.
In 1926, Wilder earned his Masters of Art in French from Princeton University.
After graduation Wilder studied in Rome and he taught French at the Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey.
In 1926 his first novel, The Cabala was published. In 1927, The Bridge of San Luis Rey was published and brought him his first commercial success along with his first Pulitzer Prize in 1928.
From 1930 to 1937 he taught at the University of Chicago and in 1938 he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama with his play Our Town and again in 1942 for his play The Skin of Our Teeth.
During World War II, Wilder joined the U.S. Army Air Force intelligence where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He served in Africa and then in Italy until 1945.
After the war, Wilder served as a visiting professor at the University of Hawaii and he taught poetry at Harvard University as the Charles Eliot Norton Professor.
Even though Wilder considered teaching his main profession he continued to write all of his life and he won the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 1957 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 and in 1967 he won the National Book Award for Eighth Day.
Wilder translated plays by André Obey and Jean-Paul Sartre and Alfred Hitchcock who was a huge fan asked him to write the screenplay for his movie Shadow of a Doubt.
His last novel, Theophilus North was published in 1973 and was made into the film, Mr. North in 1988.
Thornton Wilder died on December 7, 1975 in Hamden, Connecticut where he had lived with his sister Isabel. He was buried in Hamden’s Mount Carmel Cemetery.