After years of hard work, planning, scheduling, juggling and sheer willpower, “Wilder in the Twenty-First Century,” the First International Thornton Wilder Conference, took place at the College from Oct. 2-4 under the supervision of the Thornton Wilder Society, which is headquartered at the College. Its executive director is Lincoln Konkle, professor of English.
Thornton Wilder, while considered an excellent playwright and author (he won three Pulitzer Prizes and is still the only person to win for both drama and fiction), is “one of the most underappreciated American writers of 20th century,” according to Konkle. He said there is “a Wilder renaissance occurring” in the world of academia, which Konkle has worked diligently to promote.
The conference has played a major part in this revival, bringing Wilder appreciation into a global perspective. This year’s conference is the first to include guests from England, France, Italy, Croatia, China and Japan, demonstrating the appeal of the playwright extends far beyond the American spectrum.
Wilder was one of the most important contributors to the American literary canon in the mid-20th Century with such classics as “Our Town,” “The Skin of Our Teeth” and “The Eighth Day,” and he did much of his writing here in New Jersey.
Wilder taught French at the Lawrenceville School from 1921 to 1928, with a break from 1925 to 1927 to earn his master’s degree in French literature from Princeton University. Wilder set a majority of his works in New Jersey, making the College an appropriate place to hold a conference dedicated to his creations.
The conference featured many events, including multiple panels with scholars from all over the country and the world, three performances of Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth” by the Shakespeare ’70 Company, a panel and reading featuring the American playwright Edward Albee and another reading featuring Academy Award-winning actress Marian Seldes.
After the conference was said and done, Konkle had this to say about what he felt:
“Relief. My life will forever be defined in terms of B.C. and A.C. (before and after conference). But also great pride and excitement that we could put together such a great event for the enjoyment and education of (College) students, faculty, staff, N.J. teachers and members of the general public.”