The Works of James Thurber

James Thurber was an American author, columnist, cartoonist and humorist. Thurber was best known as The New Yorker writer and cartoonist and the author of the short story The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Thurber was born in 1894 in Columbus, Ohio to Charles and Mary Thurber. His father had many periods of unemployment and although he aspired to be an actor or lawyer, he spent his time as a clerk and politician. Thurber’s mother, Mary was a high-spirited woman with a pleasing sense of humor. Thurber himself said she was one of the finest comic talents he’d ever known.

Blinded in one eye by an arrow during a game when he was seven, Thurber tended to shy away from sports and other games and found an outlet in his writing. Despite his injury, he had a normal childhood attending elementary school through high school, then attending college at The Ohio State University. Although he didn’t graduate, he got his first professional writing experience reporting for Ohio State’s newspaper, where he became the editor of its humor and literary magazine.

Thurber was unable to serve in World War I, but to support the war effort he worked as a code clerk in Washington and then at the US embassy in Paris. After his war work, he started as a journalist in the early 1920s for several newspapers including the Chicago Tribune.

Twice married with one daughter, Thurber married Helen Wismer, a magazine editor later in life. She was his main support and sidekick; she edited his writings with a heavy hand and nursed him from his alcoholism, depression and blindness, which helped him maintain his work in the literary field. He reportedly referred to her as his “seeing-eye wife.” In the early 1940s, Thurber lost the eyesight in his remaining eye and was left to dictate much of his work.

During Thurber’s thirty year writing and art career, he published 30 books and a plethora of cartoons and stories in various magazines. He experimented with many genres of writing over the years, including essays, plays, fables and children’s books. He said his ideas were influenced by the Mid-western atmosphere of Columbus and his frustrations of the modern world. 

He is most famous for his work at The New Yorker between 1927 and 1933, where he wrote funny short stories and drew cartoons. Thurber’s works included Is Sex Necessary?, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Seal in the Bedroom, My Life and Hard Times, The Last Flower, The Male Animal, My World-And Welcome to It, Men Women and Dogs, and The 13 Clocks. In his works, he often dealt with the concept of average society coping with the difficulties of modern life.

Thurber was honored with the title of Greatest American Humorist since Mark Twain as well as receiving numerous other awards. He received three honorary doctorate degrees from various universities. After his death in 1961 of pneumonia, his Alma Mater, Ohio State gave him an honorary doctorate and built a theater in his name. His memory is kept alive in the Thurber House, a museum of Thurber works and materials, located in the house he lived in while at college.

For additional resources on James Thurber refer to the following sites: The biography of James Thurber
New York Times: Thurber’s life and hard times 
Books and Writers: James Grover Thurber (1894-1961)
The RumpusMerry Christmas article by Thurber
ISBNdb: Bibliography of James Thurber
KSU.eduThe Birds and the Foxes by James Thurber
Ohio MemoryDog That Bit People and Day the Dam Broke Full works The Owl Who Was God by James Thurber
Brainy Quotes: James Thurber quotes
The Quotations Page: Quotations by James Thurber
The Paris Review: Interview with Thurber
Ohio Reading Trip: James Thurber bio
IMDb: James Thurber filmography
Ohio History Central: Information about Thurber
Washington Post: James Thurber, His life and times