It is with great sadness that we share with you the news that Penelope Niven, the author of the definitive biography Thornton Wilder: A Life (HarperCollins, 2012), passed away on August 28. For over a decade she spoke of Wilder’s life and championed his work, promoting his legacy across the United States. An honorary member of the Thornton Wilder Society Board of Directors, she was also a regular contributor to the Thornton Wilder Society Newsletter. Her work is inspiring a young generation of Wilder students and scholars in the twenty-first century.
She is also an internationally acclaimed biographer of Edward Steichen and Carl Sandburg, a co-author of James Earl Jones’ memoir, and an author of Swimming Lessons: A Memoir. She was a recipient of two honorary doctorates, the North Carolina Award in Literature, the Thornton Wilder Fellowship at the Beinecke Library, Yale University, and three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, among other honors and awards for her work. For twelve years she was a Writer-in-Residence at Salem College, NC, where an international creative writing award was established in her name.
A woman of great charm and Southern grace, Penny was an outstanding scholar, revered teacher, inspiring writer, and a dear friend to many who will miss her greatly.