A Chat With Wilder
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Tappan Wilder, nephew & literary executor of Thornton Wilder, joins us for an inside look at OUR TOWN and the legacy of Thornton Wilder. How did Grover’s Corners become a quintessential small-town representation and is there more to the play than that? How did Our Town become the great American contemporary classic it is today? Wilder’s work is performed all across the United States time and time again – in regional theaters, college campuses, high schools – and even in different languages. How did his work achieve this universality? And how did Miami New Drama’s version of OUR TOWN bring this work into a new light?
About Tappan Wilder
Tappan is Thornton Wilder’s nephew and has served for twenty-five years as his literary executor. He plays a similar role for the literary legacies of Wilder’s three sisters and brother, all of whom were also authors. He speaks widely about his uncle’s life, work and family. As literary executor of Thornton Wilder’s works, Tappan has overseen a major re-issue of Wilder’s seven novels and major plays, published by HarperCollins. For each work, he contributed Afterwords containing an overview, brief history of the work and several selected readings. With the late Donald Gallup, he compiled and edited TCG’s two-volume edition of Thornton Wilder short plays. Working with Rosey Strub, Manager of Wilder’s works, Tappan revisited all of Wilder’s Samuel French acting editions. The resulting editions feature textual corrections, updated stage directions and special notes. This muti-year project included the 2012 release of the definitive acting edition of Our Town. Tappan has also overseen Wipf & Stock’s re-publication of seventeen of Amos Niven Wilder’s works covering the fields of New Testament studies, literature and religion, literary criticism and poetry.
Tappan also selected and worked closely with Penelope Niven, author of Thornton Wilder: A Life (2013); and J.D. McClatchy, editor of the Library of America’s three volumes devoted to Thornton Wilder’s drama and fiction (2007, 2009, 2011), and Robin G. Wilder and Jackson R. Bryer, editors of The Selected Letters of Thornton Wilder (2008). These foundational works for understanding Thornton Wilder’s work, life and family utilized extensive Wilder family archival materials never before available to researchers.
Tappan is also responsible for adding four heretofore unpublished one-act plays and four playlets to the public record, and opening the door for several subsidiary works based on Wilder drama and fiction, including: the Our Town opera (libretto by J.D. McClatchy, score by Ned Rorem); his adaptation of George Farquhar’s The Beaux’ Stratagem (begun by Wilder in 1939 and completed by Ken Ludwig in 2006); and stage adaptations of the novels Theophilus North and The Bridge of San Luis Rey by, respectively, playwrights Matthew Burnett and David Greenspan. In 2016 he arranged the first publication of Wilder’s Broadway record-breaking translation of A Doll’s House published in trade edition by TCG Press and an acting edition by Samuel French. He is currently researching Wilder’s non-fiction, his record as lecturer and teacher, and the history of his uncle’s one-act plays.