Yale Hosts Symposium Honoring Thornton Wilder

The nephew and friends of author Thornton Wilder, Yale Class of 1920, as well as drama students and playwrights influenced by his work, will gather on campus with scholars from the United States and Russia to participate in a free public symposium on Thursday, Sept. 18, celebrating the centenary of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright’s birth.

“Thornton Wilder: A Centenary Symposium” will feature a discussion between Wilder’s nephew, A. Tappan Wilder, and some of the playwright’s friends; dramatic readings from two of Wilder’s little-known plays; and a roundtable discussion featuring noted playwrights John Guare and A.R. Gurney. In addition, a dozen scholars, including Wilder’s biographer, Penelope Niven, will make presentations or take part in informal discussions about the playwright.

The symposium will begin at 9:30 a.m. with formal presentations by scholars on Wilder’s plays and fiction. Topics include “Acts of Faith: Thornton Wilder and His Critics,” “Thornton Wilder, Sol Lesser, and the Demands of Hollywood Narrativity in ‘Our Town’ ” and “Thornton Wilder: The Writer as Reader.” A roundtable discussion will follow at 10:45 a.m. Among the seven participants are Ms. Niven, Irena Babushkina of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and theater scholar and director Howard M. Stein of Columbia University.

At 1 p.m. Liz Diamond, assistant professor of directing at the School of Drama – who directed last spring’s production of Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth” at the Yale Repertory Theatre – will lead students in staged readings of the author’s one-act plays “Bernice” and “The Wreck of the Five-Twenty-Five.”

At 2:30 p.m., A. Tappan Wilder will lead a discussion featuring a group of the playwright’s friends. Among the participants will be three Yale affiliates: former University chaplain William Sloane Coffin Jr.; Caroline Rollins, a research librarian in history of art; and Yale classics department chair and comparative literature professor Heinrich von Staden. Other participants will include John Barnett of the New Haven law firm of Wiggin & Dana, who served as Wilder’s attorney; actress Sally Begley; playwright, stage director and actor Jerome Kilty; F.J. O’Neil, an actor and director who has worked to have Wilder’s lesser-known works published; actress and theater education advocate Mary Hunter Wolf; and Theodore Mann, theatrical producer who co-founded and has served as artistic director of New York City’s Circle in the Square Theater.

A discussion on the topic “Thornton Wilder and American Playwrights” by Mr. Guare, Mr. Gurney and Ms. Diamond will begin at 4:30 p.m.

All of the above events will take place at the Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall St., and are free and open to the public. As seating is limited, those interested in attending are asked to preregister by calling 432-2962.

The symposium will conclude with a reception at 6 p.m. in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, where participants will have the opportunity to view the exhibition “Wilder: A Centenary Celebration.”

“Thornton Wilder: A Centenary Symposium” is cosponsored by the Beinecke Library, the School of Drama, the English Department, the Theater Studies Program and the Whitney Humanities Center. For further information, call 432-2962.

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Media Contact

Gila Reinstein: gila.reinstein@yale.edu, 203-432-1325