Award-Winning Biographer To Speak At Marietta College

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Marietta College’s Esbenshade Series returns with author Penelope Niven, who will discuss her latest work on the playwright Thornton Wilder, at 7:30 p.m., Monday, April 8.

Niven’s lecture, which will be in the Alma McDonough Auditorium, is the fourth of five performances/talks scheduled for the 2012-13 Esbenshade Series.

Niven’s book, Thornton Wilder: A Life, is considered the first biography of the pivotal, pioneering American playwright and novelist to be based on unprecedented access to thousands of pages of letters, public and private journals, manuscripts and other documentary evidence of Wilder’s life, work and times. HarperCollins published the book in October.

Niven has worked for more than a decade with unprecedented access to the Wilder papers in her exploration of his public life and work, and much of what he called the drama of his inner life.

According to a New York Times review, "It cannot be easy to write a biography of a man who lived most deeply inside his questing mind. Yet with the aid of Wilder’s journals and letters Ms. Niven is able to make his continuing education a journey that often outshines the more superficially engaging aspects of his career, including friendships with an amazingly disparate array of figures: Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, the English society hostess Sibyl Colefax, the actress Ruth Gordon, Jean-Paul Sartre and even the prizefighter Gene Tunney, with whom Wilder trekked through Europe when both were more or less at the height of their fame."

Niven is the author of critically acclaimed biographies of poet Carl Sandburg and photographer Edward Steichen. Her books include Carl Sandburg: A Biography; Steichen: A Biography; and Voices and Silences, co-authored with the actor James Earl Jones.

Niven has been awarded the Thornton Wilder Visiting Fellowship at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the North Carolina Award in Literature, the highest honor the state bestows on an author.

The Series closes with an Esbenshade regular in Chris Brubeck and Triple Play on Wednesday, April 17. The performance begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Alma McDonough Auditorium.

All Esbenshade Series performances are free and open to the public.