Born Thornton Niven Wilder in Madison, Wisconsin, the son of a US diplomat, he spent part of his childhood in China.
He served in the US Coast Guard during WW1, before earning his BA at Yale in 1920. Six years later, his first novel The Cabala (1926) was published. That same year he earned his MA in French from Princeton. In 1927, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, which pioneered the diaster novel, linking individual stories via flashback with a calamity, brought him commercial success and his first Pulitzer Prize in 1928. From 1930 to 1937 he taught at the University of Chicago. He won two further Pulitzer Prizes for his plays Our Town (1938), his best loved work, and The Skin of Our Teeth (1943).
WW2 saw him return to military service gaining the rank of Lt Colonel in the Army Air Force and receive several awards. He went on to be a visiting professor at the University of Hawaii and to teach poetry at Harvard. Though he considered himself a teacher first and a writer second, he continued to write all his life, receiving numerous honours for his writing. He died in his sleep in at his home in Connecticut in December 1975.
Wilder had a wide circle of friends and enjoyed mingling with other famous people, including Ernest Hemingway, Russel Wright, Willa Cather, Montgomery Clift and Gertrude Stein.
Extremely reticent about his homosexuality, he shared a brief difficult relationship with writer and friend, Samuel Steward, but details of the private life of this shy and reserved man are few.