"Many of my books prove that I am never very far away from Ohio in my thoughts, and that the clocks that strike in my dreams are often the clocks of Columbus."
James Thurber, the son of a politican, was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. Before entering school, Thurber lost sight in one of his eyes while playing "William Tell" with his two brothers. Nonetheless, he had a normal childhood, attending local public schools until college, where he ventured no farther than The Ohio State University. Though he never graduated, Thurber got his first exposure to professional writing when he began reporting for Ohio State's newspaper and becomes the editor of its humor and literary magazine.
Though he could not enlist in World War I due to the blindness in his eye, Thurber contributed to the effort by taking jobs at the state department in Washington and then the American embassy in Paris. When the war ended he returned to Ohio and took a reporting and columnist's job at The Columbus Dispatch. Just a year later, he was off to Paris with his new wife, Althea Adams. The marriage, which produced one daughter, would last only until 1935; two months after the divorce, Thurber would remarry to an editor named Helen Wismer.
While overseas, Thurber continued his career in journalism at the Chicago Tribune's Paris and Nice bureaus. But In 1926, Thurber returned to the States -- this time New York -- and took a job at the New York Evening Post. A year after his return, he met New Yorker writer E.B. White (Charlotte's Web); the pair hit it off and White got Thurber a job in the office next to his. Thurber would continue writing for the periodical -- though only as a contributor after 1933 -- for the rest of his life.
Thurber started at the New Yorker as an editor, but his superiors quickly realized he only wanted to write; by 1931, he had written enough short stories and essays to publish his second book, but first collection of New Yorker works, entitled The Owl in the Attic and Other Perplexities. Many of the stories, say critics, were wrought from the distress of his first marriage. Nevertheless, Owl was a critical success. It was Thurber's fourth collection of stories, however -- published in 1933 and titled My Life and Hard Times -- that would become Thurber's "unquestioned masterpiece." For the book, Thurber reached back into his childhood and with wit and humor told tales of "outlandish events and disastrous misunderstandings."
While writing at the New Yorker, Thurber would doodle on any surface he could find. Though colleagues frequently urged him to submit his drawings to the magazine's art department, Thruber refused, saying he was not an artist. Finally, E.B. White dug some of his drawings out of a trash can one day and submitted them himself; amazingly, they were accepted, and Thurber's career as illustrator -- in addition to author -- was born in 1930.
Thurber went on to write nearly forty more books -- including essay collections, short stories, fables, and children's stories; he also wrote three plays and served as illustrator for three books. He won numerous awards for his work, including the Caldecott Honor Award for one of his children's books, Many Moons. All this success as a writer and illustrator came despite the fact that, in the early 1940s, Thurber was forced to dictate much of his work, as he had lost the eyesight in his remaining eye.
Before his death from pneumonia in 1961, James Thurber received three honorary doctorate degrees and even appeared as himself numerous times in a production he wrote, entitled A Thurber Carnival. After his death, he received another honorary doctorate, and a theater was built in his name, at his Alma Mater, Ohio State. Today, his story is kept alive by the Thurber House, a "literary arts center and museum of Thurber Materials…located in what was James's home during his college years."