Although born in Madison, Wisconsin (on April 17, 1897), Thornton Niven Wilder spent much of his childhood abroad, in Hong Kong and China, due to his father's career as a diplomat. Wilder began writing plays while in high school. He served in the Coast Guard during World War I, and would later serve in the Army Air Force during World War II.
Wilder published his first novel, The Cabala, in 1926. It was his next work, however, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), that earned him widespread acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize. "The book [sold] more than 300,000 copies in its first two years, allowing Wilder to devote himself to writing full-time" (The Chronology of American Literature). Rivaling The Bridge of San Luis Rey for the status of Wilder's most popular and successful work is his 1938 play, Our Town-which, like the novel that preceded it, is much occupied with themes of love, as well as the meaning of both life and death. One of Wilder's other familiar works-though primarily through its musical theater adaptation as Hello, Dolly!-is The Matchmaker (1954; itself a revision of his earlier, 1938 play, The Merchant of Yonkers). Also notably, he wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's 1943 celebrated thriller, Shadow of a Doubt.
"Wilder taught in colleges and universities in the United States and Europe; he was (1950-51) Charles E. Norton professor of poetry at Harvard. A serious and highly original dramatist, Wilder often employed nonrealistic theatrical techniques, i.e., scrambled time sequences, minimal stage sets, characters speaking directly to the audience, and the use of a narrator. His plays, like his novels, usually maintain that true meaning and beauty are found in ordinary experience" (Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia).
Thornton Wilder died on December 7, 1975.