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1894

James Thurber is born

On this day in 1894, humorist James Thurber is born in Columbus, Ohio.

When Thurber was about 7, he lost an eye in an accident while playing with his brothers. His disability made him shy and awkward, and he was something of a misfit until he discovered a love for writing while at Ohio State University. He encrypted and decoded messages for the Army from 1918 to 1920 in Paris, and later worked there as a freelance writer. He married Althea Adams, whom he later divorced, in 1922. In 1926, the couple moved to New York, and he became associated with a new magazine, The New Yorker, where he shared an office with E.B. White, master stylist and author of Charlotte’s Web. White had a strong influence on Thurber’s writing, which consisted largely of funny essays and short stories, accompanied by his own humorous drawings.

Thurber published many popular story and drawing collections, including The Owl in the Attic (1931), The Seal in the Bedroom (1932), and My Life and Hard Times (1933). His short story “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” published in The New Yorker in 1939, became one of his best-known works.

Thurber’s later works lacked the delicate touch of earlier creations, as he struggled with health problems and drank heavily. He wrote several charming works for children, including The 13 Clocks (1950) and The Wonderful O (1957), before his death in 1961.

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