James Thurber, one of the outstanding American
humorists of the twentieth century, is known for his distinctively
funny cartoons and short stories. His concise, witty prose spanned
a breadth of genres, including autobiography, fiction, children's
fantasy, and modern commentary, and two of his short stories,
"The Catbird Seat" and "The Secret Life of Walter
Mitty," are among the best-known classics of American literature.
Thurber was born in Columbus on December 8, 1894.
His father was a clerk who often served politicians, and his mother
was an eccentric woman who would be an influence for many of his
stories. Thurber had two brothers. As a young boy, Thurber lost
sight in one of his eyes while playing "William Tell"
with his brothers, an accident which eventually caused him to
go completely blind later in life. Still, Thurber had a fairly
normal childhood. Thurber attended local public schools. He went
to the Ohio State University from 1913-1917, when the Thurbers
rented the house at 77 Jefferson Avenue, which is now Thurber
House. Due to his eye injury, Thurber never completed a compulsory
ROTC course and did not graduate from Ohio State, though he received
a posthumous degree.
Thurber launched his professional writing career
as a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch in 1920. He began
writing for the New Yorker in 1927 after friend E.B. White
(Charlotte's Web) got him a job at the magazine. Thurber
started as an editor for the magazine but quickly became a writer.
His career as a cartoonist began in 1930, when White dug some
of Thurber's drawings out of the trash and submitted them to be
published in the New Yorker.
Though hampered by failing eyesight, Thurber wrote
nearly forty books, including collections of essays, short stories,
fables, and children's stories. He won a Tony Award for
his popular Broadway play, A Thurber Carnival, in which
he often starred as himself.
Thurber died of complications from pneumonia on
November 2, 1961. He is buried in Columbus' Greenlawn Cemetery.