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.|
A PROMISE KEPT
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 “
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.”
for 30 Years
Paul D. Keane
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
entirely after this
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
. 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 Kent State Sterling memorial Library at Yale in 1978. See these articles at the following links: http://kent.state.tripod.com/yale3.html
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. http://holysmoke2011.blogspot.com/
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. http://irenemother.blogspot.com/
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 .
Isabel Wilder, 95, Novelist, Is Dead
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
for distinguished foreign translations of American literature. In 1993, the university renamed the center the Columbia University Translation Center for Arts and Education. Wilder Translation Center
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.|