Biography of James Thurber

One of the most beloved American humorous and satirical writers since Mark Twain, James Thurber made his name with what modernist doyen T. S. Eliot called "a form of humor which is also a way of saying something serious," a talent he also demonstrated as a cartoonist for The New Yorker and as a playwright.

Born on December 8, 1894 in Columbus, Ohio to a clerk father and a mother whom he would describe as a "born comedian," Thurber's early life was defined by his loss of an eye and partial blinding at age seven due to a ill-conceived game of William Tell with his brother. Many of Thurber's critics see this limitation of his vision, which worsened progressively over the course of his life, as a stimulus for his pursuit of creative vision.

Thurber attended Ohio State University from 1913 to 1918, but was unable to graduate because his poor eyesight prevented him from completing a mandatory Reserve Officers' Training Corps course.

Thereafter, he worked as a code clerk for the State Department in Washington, D.C. and then in Paris (1918-1920), and as a reporter for the Columbia Dispatch and Chicago Tribune (1921-1924), during which latter time he reviewed books, films, and playw in a column.

Moving to New York in 1925, Thurber began a long tenure at The New Yorker two years later thanks to the assistance of his friend E. B. White, a contributor to the magazine.

Of the large number of short stories that Thurber contributed to The New Yorker, "The Night the Bed Fell" (1933) and "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" (1939) are some of his best-known. My Life and Hard Times (1933), a book of nine stories, established his reputation as a short-story writer, followed by collections such as My World—And Welcome to It (1942).

Thurber contributed many cartoons to The New Yorker during the 1920s to 30s, and published them collected in book format. Due to his worsening eyesight eventually ceased, his last drawing appearing in 1951.

Thurber died on November 2, 1961, aged 66.

Study Guides on Works by James Thurber