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Thornton Wilder (1897-1975) author, playwright is one of those everlasting Icons of American literature and just when you hear people say “he is out of  phase” you laugh and say but 3 Pulitzer Prizes, what else do you want? His rank as a WWII Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army Air Force Intelligence surely must have helped him to formulate ideas about men and their world. Those extraordinary skills came to the fore in his second book The Bridge of Saint Louis Rey which became the forerunner of all modern day epic books about disasters and the corresponding type of film making.

wilderThe book published in 1927 as a hardbound book won him a well deserved Pulitzer Prize in 1928. The same title was published in 1929 as a true paperback or paper book better known by the term used today “pocketbook“.

img957I believe it to be the first true American novel in this format for the reason that it was published with the thought of making it available to a wider public at lower cost, in an easy format, as is stated in the colophon as well as for the fact that the book was published by the same publisher. I have not been able to find other books in that format before this date with the same prerequisites.

img959This format gave the impetus for the publisher to start a whole new publishing venture calling on one of the best illustrators working in America at the time, Rockwell Kent to provide the illustrations.

img960This is the definitive “firstPulitzer Prize, special format, an icon in book publishing but recognized by few. Over time, the book title ended up on many lists of the 100 best novels of the Twentieth Century. Not everybody seems to see it this way though. The often controversial New York Times Book Review published Books of the Century,  A hundred years of authors, Ideas and Literature in 1998 and is of a different opinion all together.

img184Edited by Charles McGrath and the staff of the book review, 647 pages and guess what, the name of Thornton Wilder appears exactly once in the index on page 171 in a review of another book not by Thornton Wilder. Editorial preference was a “Guaranteed freedom” here. There was not one review of any of Thornton Wilder’s works!

Thank goodness American readers no longer depend on the Book Review to understand what literature is all about. Thornton Wilder went on and wrote the play “Our Town”, set in Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. That play won him a second Pulitzer Prize! The play was turned into a movie and in this very interesting book describing the life of the great American composer Aaron Copland (1900-1990), most famous for his “Appalachian Spring” and “Fanfare For The Common Man”.

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Let’s continue our story in Copland’s words:

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