James Thurber Biography

James Grover Thurber was a renowned American writer, journalist, and cartoonist known for his imaginative and enchanting short stories, accompanied by witty illustrations. With a humorous and sharp writing style, Thurber gained immense popularity in the literary world. His writing journey began in his childhood, where he honed his creative skills due to a physical limitation caused by an accident. This setback turned out to be a blessing for his writing career, as he joined The New Yorker magazine as an editor, recommended by his friend and fellow contributor, E.E. White. Recognizing Thurber’s talent for drawing, White published his illustrations in the magazine, receiving great appreciation from readers. Apart from his work in The New Yorker, Thurber has written numerous short stories, biographical memories, and fables throughout his lifetime.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: James Grover Thurber
  • Died At Age: 66
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Althea Adams, Helen Muriel Wismer
    • Father: Charles L. Thurber
    • Mother: Mary Agnes
    • Siblings: Robert, William
    • Children: Rosemary Thurber
  • Born Country: United States
  • Quotes By James Thurber
  • Cartoonists
  • Died on: November 2, 1961
  • Place of death: New York City, New York, United States
  • More Facts
  • Education: East High School, Columbus, OH, Ohio State University

Childhood & Early Life

James Thurber was born in Ohio to Charles L. Thurber and Mary Agnes Thurber. His father was a small-time clerk and a minor politician, while his mother was a homemaker who instilled humor in Thurber. As a little boy, Thurber lost an eye while playing with his brother, which made it difficult for him to participate in sports activities at school. However, this setback allowed him to focus his energy on creative endeavors. In 1913, he joined Ohio State University but was unable to graduate due to poor eyesight. He left the university and began working as a code clerk in Washington and later in France.


After returning from France, Thurber started his journalistic career as a reporter for the Columbus Dispatch from 1921-24. He wrote reviews on the latest books, movies, plays, and more for the column “Credos and Curios.” In 1925, he moved to New York and became a reporter for the New York Evening Post. A few years later, he joined The New Yorker as an editor with the help of his friend, E.B. White. Thurber’s career as a cartoonist in The New Yorker began in 1930 when White discovered some of his drawings in the trash and had them published. Thurber’s writing career as an author started in the 1930s and continued for three decades, during which he wrote numerous short stories, fictional memoirs, fables, humorous essays, and a biographical memoir.

Major Works

Thurber’s enigmatic short stories and witty cartoons in The New Yorker are considered to be his major works. During his time as an editor from the 1920s to the 1950s, Thurber grew as a cartoonist and author of independent books.

Personal Life & Legacy

Thurber was married to Althea Adams from 1922-1935, but their marriage was troubled, and divorce was expected. He then married Helen Wismer in 1935. Thurber died at the age of 66 in 1961 due to pneumonia, which caused a stroke.


  • At the time of his death, Thurber’s last words were “God bless… God damn.”
  • There is an award named after him – the Thurber Prize, which recognizes outstanding examples of American humor.
  • Thurber drew six covers and many illustrations for The New Yorker.
  • Neurologist V.S. Ramachandran has suggested that Thurber’s creativity may be due to Charles Bonnet syndrome, a neurological condition that causes visual hallucinations in individuals who have suffered visual loss.
  • Thurber wrote both hilarious and dark stories, including “The Whip-Poor Will,” a tale of madness and murder.
  • His short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” was adapted into a movie.
  • Two of his former houses, his childhood Thurber House in Ohio and the Sanford-Curtis-Thurber House in Connecticut, are on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

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