Saturday, May 21, 2011

* Thornton Wilder's Desk Given to MacDowell Colony, 2008


see also 
for 20 years of notes, cards and letters from Miss Wilder.

Miss Wilder's grave in the Mt. Carmel Burying Ground is 100 yards from my parents' grave.   When Miss Wilder was in her eighties, I took care of this plot for her, overseeing the replacement of overgrown yews with these dwarf shrubs.

"Not since William and Dorothy Wordsworth has there been a brother/sister literary team like Thornton and Isabel Wilder."

John D. Ogden
Yale University '58
(Romantic Literature)

John D. Ogden,
Ph.D portrait 

Douglas Semonin

Miss Wilder's 1976 gift to me given to MacDowell Colony, 2008

New Haven Register


Writer's furniture finds home at retreat

Portrait of Thornton Wilder in the Stagemanager's costume from Our Town and also The Skin of Our Teeth. ( Artist, Clarence Brodeur.) Donated to the MacDowell Colony in 2009 by Paul Keane

From The Director of the MacDowell Colony, Cheryl Young


Hi Paul, 

Here are photos of the Wilder side board and Thornton's writing desk, both in Hillcrest. The side board is in the side entry room. The desk is in the east wing on the second floor landing where the light is beautiful. The MacDowell medalists often stay in that wing. Albee, Roth, Munro and even Duchamp have all stayed at Hillcrest. In a few weeks, Stephen Sondheim will be with us. 

Thanks again for connecting our cultural heritage through the generations.

Warm regards,


Sunday, April 17, 2011

*Helping a New Teacher in Grovers Corners, Vermont

see also 
for 20 years of notes, cards and letters from Miss Wilder.

Thornton and Isabel Wilder

Miss Wilder and my parents at the dedication of the Thornton Wilder Memorabilia at our town's Miller Library
Yours truly as a guest of Miss Wilder,  circa 1978.


I promised myself when I met Miss Wilder in 1976 that I would NEVER ask her about her brother, Thornton.  I kept that promise until she died at 95 in 1995.  After nine or ten years I told her about my promise, enough time for her to judge for herself whether I’d kept it.   Note: I did however listen and comment if she initiated the topic. But I never inquired or "dug".

She didn’t say anything, but you could see she was mulling it over.

Later a friend of theirs told me I was foolish, “Isabel loved to be asked about her brother.  That was her life.”

I’m not so sure. 

I once said to her, “you were practically his secretary”. She replied,
"What do you mean ‘practically’?!"

My hunch was, and it is still my hunch nearly twenty years after her death, that Thornton’s fame came so early and eclipsed the entire family so immediately, that Miss Wilder never got a chance to be just herself.

She was always “Thornton’s sister.”

A higher compliment---an egalitarian compliment ---was offered by my friend and professor, the late John D. Ogden, who received his Ph.D in Romantic Literature from Yale circa, 1958.

Here is what he said:  “Not since William and Dorothy Wordsworth has there been a brother/sister literary team like Thornton and Isabel Wilder.”

                      PROMISES KEPT 
                           for 30 Years

In addition to funding my internship to be a Vermont school teacher in 1985, at age 85 and my first year at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English in 1991 at age 91 (along with my father), Miss Wilder also funded a number of my projects while at the divinity School.

In 1978 at age 78, she funded Kent State F.A.C.T. (First amendment Conservation Task-Force) but with this proviso: “I will fund it if you promise to give up Kent State entirely after this project.”

 Miss Wilder could see that I was in danger of becoming a one-trick-pony as they say, a one issue activist. She wanted to pry me loose from Kent State.  I kept my promise for almost thirty years, long after her death in 1995, until Yale refused to add the papers of Kent State President, Glenn A. Olds, to the Kent State Collection I had helped create in Sterling memorial Library at Yale in 1978.  See these articles at the following links:

In 1984, at age 84, Miss Wilder funded the highly controversial pamphlet  I created in new haven for the A.I.D.S. crisis. I blush to say she even read the pamphlet, which shocks me to think of it today.  When I later appeared on 60 Minutes in 1984 over the A.I.D.S. prostitute in New Haven, Miss Wilder’s only comment was, “You didn’t sound like yourself, Paul.” 

It didn’t help her ears, that Miss Wilder kept her television in the foyer so no one could sit down to watch it.

Nor did it help that I was terrified when I was being interviewed that I would say something that would get the prostitute killed.

When I graduated from Yale Divinity School Miss Wilder was the anonymous “angel” who backed publication of my of my Divinity school  editorials, entitled Holy Smoke.

She never commented on them. She didn’t praise other people’s writing, especially mine.

With one exception. She said my eulogy for Irene O’Malley was “beautiful”, high praise from the praise stingy, Isabel Wilder.

Miss Wilder kept me honest and kept my head from swelling.  I hope I helped keep her young.

Paul D. Keane
M.A., M.Div., M.Ed.

June 1, 2013

Miss Wilder insisted on anonymity for these funding projects. I kept that anonymity for 30 years, long past any statute of legal or moral limitations.

I am happy now to share her grandmotherly generosity to me with posterity .

New York Times Articles

Isabel Wilder, 95, Novelist, Is Dead

Published: March 06, 1995

·                        Isabel Wilder, a novelist and a sister of the author and playwright Thornton Wilder, died last Monday at her home in HamdenConn. She was 95.

Miss Wilder published three novels in the 1930's: "Mother and Four" (1933), "Heart Be Still" (1934) and "Let Winter Go" (1937). In later years, she contributed introductions to several of her brother's posthumously published works, including "The Alcestiad" (1977), "American Characteristics and Other Essays" (1979) and "The Journals of Thornton Wilder 1939-1961" (1985), selected and edited by Donald Gallup of Yale University.

In 1978, Miss Wilder provided funds to establish an annual prize through the Columbia UniversityTranslation Center for distinguished foreign translations of American literature. In 1993, the university renamed the center the Wilder Translation Center for Arts and Education.

She also established the Thornton Wilder endowed writing prize in 1987 for talented high school students around New Haven.

No immediate family members survive.

Some of my first class at a medieval feast, 1986, Whitcomb High School, Bethel, Vermont.

I crossed out the address on these pages.

Handwritten insertion says:"and several of you to try to answer. The friend to whom I have dictated this + (illegible) have had not time to reread and correct HAD to go. - Several of you have not been answered by name though I think from other answers Their's [sic] have been.  I'll add one last note soon.  Not able now. Must rest. I. W. "