National Endowment for the Arts - The Big Read
The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Our Town

The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Our Town

by Thornton Wilder

It seems to me that my books are about: what is the worst thing that the world can do to you, and what are the last resources one has to oppose it.


Thornton Wilder in the role of George Antrobus in The Skin of Our Teeth (Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

The Life and Times of Thornton Wilder

  1. 1890s–1900s
    • 1897: Thornton Wilder is born April 17.
    • 1901: Theodore Roosevelt takes office as U.S. President.
    • 1906: Roosevelt appoints Amos Wilder consul general in Hong Kong. The family lives in China, before moving to Berkeley, California.
  2. 1910s
    • World War I erupts in Europe in 1914; America enters in 1917.
    • 1918: Wilder joins the Army.
    • Armistice signed November 11, 1918, ending World War I. Wilder is discharged and returns to Yale, graduates in 1920.
  3. 1920s
    • 1926: Wilder publishes his first novel, The Cabala, and his play The Trumpet Shall Sound is produced in New York.
    • 1927: The Bridge of San Luis Rey is published to immediate acclaim.
    • 1929: Stock market crashes, triggering the Great Depression.
  4. 1930s
    • During the worst years of the Depression, nearly 25% of the labor force is unemployed.
    • Wilder's adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House opens in 1937, followed two months later by Our Town, 1938.
    • 1939: Germany invades Poland, beginning World War II in Europe.
  5. 1940s
    • 1942: The Skin of Our Teeth opens on Broadway; Wilder writes the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt.
    • 1942—1945: Wilder serves with Army Air Force Intelligence in North Africa and Italy.
    • 1945: World War II ends after claiming more than fifty million lives worldwide.
  6. 1950s
    • 1950: Senator Joseph McCarthy brandishes a list of alleged communists in the State Department.
    • 1952: Wilder is awarded the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
    • 1955: The Matchmaker opens on Broadway starring Ruth Gordon.
  7. 1960s
    • 1964: Hello, Dolly!—adapted from Wilder's play The Matchmaker—opens on Broadway starring Carol Channing.
    • 1964: The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution officially embroils the U.S. in Vietnam.
    • 1968: Wilder's novel The Eighth Day wins the National Book Award.
  8. 1970s
    • 1975: Wilder dies of a heart attack at his home in Hamden, Connecticut, on December 7.
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