One of the most honored and versatile of modern writers, Thornton Wilder combined a career as a successful novelist with work for the theater that made him one of this century's outstanding dramatists. It was an early short novel, however, that first brought him fame. The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927), a bestseller that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1927, is the story of a group of assorted people who happen to be on a bridge in Peru when it collapses. Ingeniously constructed and rich in its philosophical implications about fate and synchronicity, Wilder's book would seem to be the first well-known example of a formula that has become a cliche in popular literature. His attraction to classical themes is manifested in The Woman of Andros (1930), a tragedy about young love in pre-Christian Greece, and The Ides of March (1948), set in the time of Julius Caesar and told in letters and documents covering a long span of years. Heaven's My Destination (1934), is a seriocomic and picaresque story about a young book salesman traveling through the Midwest during the early years of the Great Depression.Theophilus North (1973), Wilder's last novel, disappointed many reviewers, but it provided its author with opportunities to offer some wry observations on the life of the idle rich in Newport during the summer of 1926 and to ponder in the story of his alter ego what might have happened if Wilder had stayed home, so to speak, instead of becoming Thornton Wilder. As a serious writer of fiction, Wilder's main claim rests on The Eighth Day (1967), an intellectual thriller, which the N.Y. Times called "the most substantial fiction of his career." It won the National Book Award for fiction in 1968.
Born of Irish Catholic parents in New York City, Guare was an only child. His parents led intense but somewhat separate lives and young Guare found himself increasingly alone as he grew up. He spent his childhood reading, listening to albums of Broadway musicals, and writing plays. His first play was presented in a neighbor's garage when he was eleven. Guare first came to public attention with his one-act play Muzeeka (1968), a biting social satire about an ambitious man who works for a canned-music company that inflicts its banal arrangements on the entire country. The hero, Jack Argue, is a modern guilt-ridden "Everyman" who has sold himself out to the system. The play was first performed at Connecticut's Eugene O'Neill Memorial Theatre, then at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. On April 28, 1968, it opened off-Broadway at the Provincetown Playhouse on a double bill with Sam Shepard's Red Cross. Muzeeka ran for 65 performances and earned its author an Obie Award that year. The House of Blue Leaves (1971), Guare's first full-length play, is set in a Queens apartment on the day the Pope is making his first visit to New York City. A savage farce, The House of Blue Leaves presents an unrelenting attack on lower middle-class values. It shows the emptiness of the characters' inner lives and the horror of their senseless acts of violence. The play won both an Obie and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1971. In 1986 it enjoyed a highly successful revival at New York's Lincoln Center, which further established Guare as a unique and critically acclaimed American playwright. His more recent plays, such as Six Degrees of Separation (1990), show the playwright turning toward a more tragic outlook. Critics have been almost universal in their praise of Guare's screenplay for Louis Malle's film, Atlantic City (1981). Although not published in book form, the Canadian-French film has been distributed by Paramount in the United States. It is a bittersweet, Runyonesque tale about a small-time numbers runner, played by Burt Lancaster, and a small-town waitress, played by Susan Sarandon. Atlantic City received a number of honors, including best-screenplay awards by the National Society of Film Critics, the Los Angeles Film Critics Society, and the New York Film Critics Circle.