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Books  >>  Biography

Penelope Niven

Thornton Wilder

Penelope Niven Thornton Wilder A Life
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Main description:

Thornton Wilder: A Life, the first biography of the playwright and novelist since 1983, is based on unprecedented research: thousands of pages of letters, journals, manuscripts, and other documentary evidence of Wilder's life, work, and times. Biographer Penelope Niven mined Wilder's personal archives for more than a decade, and has produced a book that illuminates his professional life anew and reveals an enigmatic, intensely private man who wandered the world, writing, he said, for and about everybody. Even today, he has a global audience. His novels, including The Bridge of San Luis Rey, remain in print all over the world. His plays, especially the iconic Our Town and the revolutionary Skin of Our Teeth, are touchstones of modern theater.

Richly detailed, Thornton Wilder: A Life brings one of our country's most beloved playwrights to center stage and unseals his hidden inner self, apparent only here and there in his art and in his papers.

Review quote:

“Almost everybody knows OUR TOWN, but very few people really know Thornton Wilder. Penelope Niven’s fascinating biography changes that once and for all…Meticulously researched, Niven’s book reads like a riveting novel.”

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“Capacious and authoritative.”

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“Deeply researched and fluidly readable.”

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“Essential. . . . Studiously researched and measured. . . . The great strength of ‘Thornton Wilder: A Life’ is how well it fuses the early years of the Wilder biography with the themes that informed his works.”

Review quote:

“Fast-paced and engaging, this work is essential for academic readers with an interest in American literature and culture. It will also appeal to the more general reader of American biography.”

Review quote:

“Lucid, elegantly written...there is just enough shrewd literary analysis to make us understand why this prodigally gifted writer so richly deserves an audience beyond the 12th grade.”

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“Niven complements her own clear, lyrical voice with the eloquent words of Steichen’s contemporaries.”

Review quote:

“Niven complements her own clear, lyrical voice with the eloquent words of Steichen’s contemporaries...”

Review quote:

“The author admits to a ‘decade of close study of . . . primary sources’ in preparation for her biography of distinguished American novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder. The result, fully displayed on every page of this definitive treatment, is a joyous presentation of detail.”

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“The best kind of literary biography, one likely to send the reader back (or perhaps for the first time) to the author’s works.”

Review quote:

“This new biography of Wilder -- comprehensive and wisely fashioned -- gives us sufficient view of his methods, his public and private life, and the reaches of his mind…This book is a splendid and long needed work.”

Short description/annotation:

"Thornton Wilder: A Life brings readers face to face with the extraordinary man who made words come alive around the world, on the stage and on the page."
—James Earl Jones, actor

"Comprehensive and wisely fashioned….This book is a splendid and long needed work."
—Edward Albee, playwright

Thornton Wilder—three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, creator of such enduring stage works as Our Town and The Skin of Our Teeth, and beloved novels like Bridge of San Luis Ray and Theophilus North—was much more than a pivotal figure in twentieth century American theater and literature. He was a world-traveler, a student, a teacher, a soldier, an actor, a son, a brother, and a complex, intensely private man who kept his personal life a secret. In Thornton Wilder: A Life, author Penelope Niven pulls back the curtain to present a fascinating, three-dimensional portrait one of America's greatest playwrights, novelists, and literary icons.


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