Introduction to the SubjectList of Thurber's Works
A self-portrait.
Biographies on James ThurberAutobiographical Materials and Collections

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Reviews and Essays on WorksFrequently Referenced TextsOther Thurber-Related Sites 
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The sources listed herein have been selected as an introduction to the life and works of James Thurber, one of the prominent figures in American humor. Although some of the items that follow contain critical analysis of the subject's works, the main focus of this pathfinder is on biographical resources. The materials included in this pathfinder have been selected from the general reference and biographical sources available at the Davis and Undergraduate Libraries on the Campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Since first impressions are the most important, the best introduction to James Thurber is his own work. Put more succinctly, "James Thurber left his own monument. He created it . . . in the pages of the New Yorker." ("Whisky and Wry." The Economist, Feb. 17, 1996.)
A List of Thurber's Works

Thurber, James, 1894-1961Very Relevant
Thurber, James, 1894-1961 -- Additional TermsVery Relevant
Cartoonists -- United States -- BiographyGeneral
Humorists -- United States -- BiographyGeneral
Authors, American -- 20th Century -- Additional TermsGeneral
Children's Literature -- Bio-bibliographyGeneral
Humorists, American -- 20th Century -- Additional TermsGeneral
American Literature -- Additional TermsVery General

Davis Library - Seventh Floor and Undergraduate Library - Lower Level
PS3539.H94 A7 - PS3539.H94 Z464:Books by James Thurber
PS3539.H94 Z48 - PS3539.H94 Z77:Biographies, Literary Analysis and Critiques


Thurber did not write his memoirs. He didn't need to. He had been writing them his whole career in the form of short pieces, called "casuals" by his New Yorker editor, Harold Ross. Many of those who write about Thurber remark on how he put so much of his own life experiences into his work, with liberal embellishments to - as he saw it - make the story better.
Thurber, James.  My Life and Hard Times.  New York, Harper & Row, 1973.
PS3539.H94 M87Davis - Seventh Floor
This is the closest that the subject came to an autobiography, although there is a lot of literary license taken with the facts. The stories are of the day-to-day experiences of a young Thurber living in Columbus, Ohio. An excellent read time and time again.
Thurber, Helen and Weeks, Edward.   Selected Letters of James Thurber.   New York: Penguin, 1981.
PS3539.H94 Z48Davis - Seventh Floor
The collection includes a whole range of correspondence between Thurber and his closest friends and loved-ones to regrets sent to declined invitations. Many of the subject's letters include illustrations. The book also includes an index to persons and subjects mentioned in the letters.
Thurber, James.  The Thurber Album: A New Collection of Pieces About People.  New York, Simon and Schuster, 1952.
PS3539.H94 T46Undergraduate - Lower Level
This book is a collection of short stories that Thurber wrote about members of his family, friends and acquaintances. Where the writing of this book is discussed in biographies on Thurber, there was some opposition by his family on his portrayal of his father in this work.
All the biographies on Thurber tend to cover the whole of his life, from birth to death, differing from each other only in which facets of that life get the most attention. Some stress the relationships and personal growth of the subject for its own sake, while others concentrate on the writing or drawings and include the personal only as it directly impacts or explains them.
Joyce, Rosemary O., Rosen, Michael J. and Vickers, Donn F.   Of Thurber & Columbustown.    Columbus, Ohio: Thurber House, 1984.
PS3539.H94 Z73Davis - Seventh Floor
An affectionate account of the subject's life told by his daughter, close friends and admirers. Photographs and illustrations are on every page, as well as a lot of information on the Columbus of Thurber's youth. This oral history does not include much information on the subject's works.
Kinney, Harrison.  James Thurber: His Life and Times.  New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1995.
PS3569.H94 Z75 1995Davis - Seventh Floor
At over a thousand pages, this is a detailed account of the subject's professional and personal life. The author quotes extensively from interviews with the family, friends and acquaintances of Thurber; and provides a great deal of family history. The circumstances surrounding the Thurber's creations are meticulously recorded, with candid reference to the facts when persons' accounts conflict.
Grauer, Neil A. Remember Laughter: A Life of James Thurber.  Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994.
PS3539.H94 Z68 1994Davis - Seventh Floor
This well-written portrait of Thurber, the writer, uses the personal anecdotes as a context within which to examine his work. The author relies on interviews with Thurber's family, friends and contemporaries. The subject's childhood and youth are covered in the first chapter, with the bulk of the book concentrating on the subject as an established writer. A modest collection of the subject's drawings and family photographs are sprinkled throughout.
Long, Robert E. James Thurber.  New York: Continuum Publishing Company, 1988.
PS3539.H94 Z76 1988Davis - Seventh Floor
The author relies more on published and unpublished written materials such as Thurber's correspondence and manuscripts, as well as conversations with his other biographers and contemporaries. The subject's life and career are concisely particularized in the first chapter. Each of the remaining chapters treats a category of the work, his drawings, his fiction of the 1930's, "other stories," autobiographical-like works, parodies and other humor pieces, and his fables and children's books. There is a detailed five-page Chronology of the subject's life at the beginning of the book.

Holmes, Charles S. The Clocks of Columbus: The Literary Career of James Thurber.  New York: Atheneum, 1972.
PS3539.H94 Z7 1972Davis - Seventh Floor
For this biography, the author relied on interviews with the subject's brother and second wife, friends and colleagues as well as personal correspondence and unpublished materials. It should be noted that the author does not include direct quotations from Thurber's letters, due to lack of permission. Every creative project by Thurber is covered chronologically, with the subject's personal life and letters providing a context for each piece discussed. Included is a short section of photographs.
Bernstein, Burton. Thurber: A Biography.  New York: Arbor House, [1975] 1985.
PS3539.H94 Z57 1985Davis - Seventh Floor
A very complete biography, considered by some, particularly the subject's widow, to be slanted toward the negative. Several of Thurber's letters and other unpublished writings are quoted throughout.
Morsberger, Robert E.  James Thurber.  New York: Twayne, 1964.
PS3539.H94 Z77Davis - Seventh Floor
Includes details of the subject's life, an analysis of his work and a bibliography. Provides a convenient Chronology of significant events in Thurber's life. There is an index and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources, some of which are unpublished and uncollected.
The reference books listed in this section have been selected for their large amounts of detailed information on the subject's life and works. Reference sources with less than a page or two of material are not included in this pathfinder, unless they offer information not commonly found in other sources or an exceptionally useful bibliography.
Magill, Frank N., ed.  Cyclopedia of World Authors II.  vol. 4, Pasadena, California and Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Salem Press, 1989.
PN451.C93Davis - Humanities Reference
The pages devoted to the subject include only 1461-1463 and only a general overview of the subject's life and works, but the bibliographical references at the end include useful short descriptions for each source listed.
Collier, L., and J. Nakamura, eds. Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults : A Selection of Sketches from Something About the Author.  Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.
PN451.M37 1993SILS - Reference
The information in this source covers pp. 2301-2309. Lists of dates and events pertaining to his personal life and career and of his awards and memberships are followed by a comprehensive list of his works, categorized by genre. A brief chronological account of his life and work precedes closer examinations of many of his major titles.
Arner, Robert D.  James Thurber: An Introduction.  Columbus: State Library of Ohio, 1979.
PS3539.H94 Z53Davis - Seventh Floor
After a short biographical summary, this monograph gives an introductory look at the major themes and literary techniques in the subject's writings. Towards the end, the tone becomes less positive. A bibliography of primary and secondary works is provided.
Cech, J., ed.  Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Writers for Children, 1900-1960.  Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1983. S.v. "James Thurber."
PS21.D5185 1978 v.22Davis - Humanities Reference
The entry on the subject, found under "Thurber, James," includes pp. 315-320 of volume 22. After a short summary of the subject's other works, the entry provides brief descriptions of the plot of each children's book and quotations from contemporary reviews and the author regarding each. There is a photograph of the subject, an example of his artwork and photos of two of his best-known children's' books.
Kimbel, B.E., ed.  Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Short-Story Writers, 1910-1945, Second Series.  Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1978.
PS21.D5185 1978 v.102Davis - Humanities Reference
The entry on the subject, found under "Thurber, James," includes pp. 319-334 of volume 102. Provides a detailed introductory survey of the subject's shorter works and also includes information on his artwork, including several examples of it on p. 331.
Rood, K. L., ed. Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Writers in Paris, 1920-1939.  Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1978.
PS21.D5185 1978 v.4Davis - Humanities Reference
The entry on the subject covers pp. 385-388, and focuses on the times the subject spent in France and its impact on his writing. It also includes a short bibliography.
Trachtenberg, S., ed.  Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Humorists, 1800-1950.  Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1978.
PS21.D5185 1978 v. 11 pt. 2Davis - Reference
The article on the subject is found on pp. 505-526, in part 2 of volume 11 of the series, and covers all facets of the subject's literary career. There are a few photographs, examples of the subject's artwork and a complete list of the his books.
Unger, L., ed.  American Writers: A Collection of Literary Biographies.  Suppl. I, pt. 2, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1979.
PS129.A55Davis - Humanities Reference
The material on Thurber covers pp. 602-624, and includes a large selected bibliography. The article is a less-than-neutral depiction of the subject, explaining away negative aspects included. There are more details on the subject's political philosophy and public expressions of opinion on popular issues of his time.
Gale, S. H., ed.  Encyclopedia of American Humorists.  New York: Garland Publishing, 1988.
PS430.E53Davis - Humanities Reference
This is much more of an introductory source, providing concise overviews of the subject's life and work. The entry on the subject, found on pp. 445-451, is organized into separate sections, "Biography," "Literary Analysis" and a very brief "Summary," followed by a short selected bibliography.
The references to the subject within the more specialized sources for Theatre, Art and Journalism are fewer in number and much briefer in content. Thurber is clearly much more of a literary figure, but some recognition also exists in the other worlds.
Bordman, Gerald. The Oxford Companion to American Theatre 2nd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
PN2220.B6Davis - Reference Desk
On page 456, there is a short entry in this source on the subject's most successful play, "The Male Animal." It includes a synopsis of the plot and quotes from one critique. The entry for this play is cross-referenced under "Thurber." There are no illustrations or photographs.
Hochman, Stanley, ed. McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama : An International Reference Work in 5 Volumes. Vol. 5, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984.
PN1625.M3Davis - Humanities Reference
Indexed under the subject's name, there is short entry on his two successful comedies on page 23 of the fifth volume. A small photograph of the subject in his later years marks the short article.
Taft, William H.  Encyclopedia of twentieth-century journalists.  New York : Garland, 1986.
PN4871 .T34Davis - Humanities Reference
A very short entry on Thurber can be found on page 344 briefly sketching out his early experience as a reporter, although his fame as a writer for The New Yorker are more the reason for his inclusion in this source than his newspaper career.
Becker, Stephen.  Comic Art in America: A Social History of the Funnies, the Political Cartoons, Magazine Humor, Sporting Cartoons and Animated Cartoons.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1959.
NC1420 .B4Undergraduate - Lower Level
Two of Thurber's cartoons are shown in this source on page 126, and he is included as a major contributor to The New Yorker'ssophisticated style of humor.
Murrell, William. A History of American Graphic Humor (1865-1938).  New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1967.
NC1420 .M8Undergraduate - Lower Level
Mention of James Thurber's "spontaneous untaught draftsmanship" is made on pp. 237-238, including a long quote from the famous Dorothy Parker essay on the drawings. One example of the artwork is shown here.

As this pathfinder is intended as an introductory guide to the subject, this section has been limited to two compilations of the more well-known essays and articles which were typically written with the wider audience in mind. The more in-depth and scholarly analyses have not been included, because they fall outside the introductory scope of this pathfinder. There is some overlap between these two sources.

Holmes, Charles S. Thurber: A Collection of Critical Essays.  Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1974.
PS3539.H94 Z72Davis - Seventh Floor
This book provides good-sized group of the major reviews and essays about Thurber and his work, including commentary from figures like Dorothy Parker and E.B. White. Each article is unabridged and the book also provides a Chronology of important dates and events in the subject's life, a selected bibliography and notes on the editor and contributors.
Harris, L., and Fitzgerald, S., eds.  Short story criticism: Excerpts from Criticism of the Works of Short Fiction Writers.  Vol. 1, Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research, 1988.
PN3335.S56Davis - Reference Row Four
The entry for Thurber includes pp. 411-436, and provides a chronologically ordered selection of excerpts from the major commentaries on the subject's work. The bibliography at the end is of modest length, but includes many of the standard sources.
As there are relatively few stand-alone bibliographies on Thurber and his work, those that exist are frequently referenced in the other materials about him. For these reasons all the sources of this kind available in the Davis and Undergraduate Libraries at UNC-CH are listed here.
Bowden, E. T., James Thurber: A Bibliography.  Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1968.
Z8878.4.B65Davis - Eighth Floor, Non-circulating
A frequently-cited source that supplies very detailed information on the subject's original books and all the articles and drawings for periodicals. There is a section on the subject's contributions to other books and another section devoted to the many translations of his work. At the end, an index to the drawings and writings listed is provided.
Bruccoli, M. J., and J. S. Baughman, eds. Bibliography of American Fiction, 1919-1988.  Vol. 2, New York: Facts On File, 1991.
Z1231.F4 B47Davis - Reference
Includes biographical references, comprehensive listing of subject's works, critical studies, interviews with the subject and major journal articles. An index is also provided, which shows the entry for "James Thurber" to be on pp. 500-503.
Toombs, Sarah E.,   James Thurber: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism.  New York and London: Garland, 1987.
Z8878.4.T66Davis - Eighth Floor
This book catalogs secondary references to Thurber's writing, including articles of "critical, historical or biographical interest." The parts of the lists are categorized by genre, then alphabetized by author's name. Each source is numbered, and there are indexes in the back for author, title and short stories citing these numbers.
Because of the subject's penchant for re-using the same anecdotes and ideas during an interview, - even repeating whole passages from his published materials - a collection of the more well-known and frequently-cited interviews is more appropriate for an introduction to the subject. In this way, the duplication of content is more easily avoided.
Fensch, Thomas   Conversations with James Thurber.  Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989.
PS3539.H94 Z464Davis - Seventh Floor
A generous collection of the more well known interviews from all through the subject's life. Apart from a photograph of the subject at the front of the volume, there are no illustrations. A chronology of the subject's life comes after the introduction. There is an index to subjects mentioned in the interviews.
Brandon, Henry. "A Conversation with James Thurber: 'Everybody is Getting Very Serious.'"  The New Republic.  (138, no. 21, 2271, May 26, 1958):11-16.
AP2.N624Davis - Second Floor Folios
This interview provides some examples of Thurber's observations on American society and language. It includes a couple of the subject's drawings, one of which was sketched during the interview.
Thurber's writing and unusual drawings struck a chord with the popular culture, and so he spent a large part of his life as a celebrity. Articles on him and his work appear in both mainstream journals and the more scholarly publications. The following is a select list of the journals in which the more frequently-referenced articles are found.
 Lost Generation Journal.   Tulsa, Oklahoma: Literary Enterprises.
NX504.L67Davis - Sixth Floor
Published three times a year, this journal concentrates on articles, reviews and essays on writers of the "Lost Generation" era. The Winter, 1975, issue is a Special issue almost wholly devoted to articles on Thurber.
 Harper's Magazine.  New York, Harper's Magazine Co.
AP2 .H37Davis - Second Floor
Later entitled  Harper's,  this monthly general interest magazine frequently printed pieces by Thurber starting from the early 1930's until 1960.
 The New Republic.  New York: The New Republic.
AP2 .N624Davis - Second Floor Folios
During the years when the majority of the articles about the subject appear in this magazine, the publication was bi-weekly and covered a broad range of subjects of general interest to American culture and politics.
 The New Yorker.  New York: New Yorker.
AP2.N6763Davis - Second Floor Folios
As the publication where the majority of Thurber's short works were first printed when he was a writer on staff, the New Yorker is a good source of articles by and about the subject.
 Paris Review.  Paris: Paris Review.
AP4.P245Davis - Second Floor
This journal is published quarterly and regularly contains interviews with well-known literary figures. Several interviews with the subject and articles about his works may be found in this source.

All images used on this site: © 1929-1961 James Thurber.

If you have comments or suggestions, email me at

Note to all Students: 

The answers can be found in the books listed above.  If you are planning to ask me to provide you with information that you could find in any of the resources I've got listed above, please save yourself the trouble and just ...

Read the Thurber Pathfinder.  

Please do your own research.  
Really, it's not hard - just time consuming, which is why those who do research for others are paid. The only way I've ever heard of to get good research done for free is to do it yourself.

Also, as you probably already realize, one of the main points of  most writing assignments is to get you used to doing your own research. This pathfinder is designed to help you get started and save you some time.  I've included descriptions for each of the items listed here so that you can determine whether or not a particular item will be helpful to you before you spend time getting it from the library. 

I guess what I'm trying to say here is ...

Please, please, please don't send me email asking for free research on Thurber.  
It just depresses me to know how many students out there don't seem to want to learn how to use a library.  If you always get someone else to do the research for you, you're really ripping yourself off.

Learning your way around a library gives you real power!
Think of anything you've ever wondered about; chances are that somebody, somewhere has written a book, article or Web Pages about it. Is there something you want really badly? There is probably something published out there that can tell you the best way to get it!

Do yourself a favor:  Go to the reference desk at your local library and ask questions.  Any librarian worth his or her salt will be pleased to help you find things - especially if you show that you are interested in learning to find things for yourself.  Best of Luck!