Friday, July 19, 2013

* Cards, Notes, etc, 1975 -1995: Isabel Wilder to Paul Keane ( Intellectual property rights may revert to the Wilder family upon the death of Paul Keane.)

LINK to  these items in Yale 's BEINECK RARE BOOK LIBRARY

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Holdings Information

  • Author/Creator:Wilder, Isabel, 1900-1995.
  • Title:Isabel Wilder letters to Paul Keane, 1975-1994.
  • Physical Description:0.21 linear feet (1 box)
  • Yale Holdings

  • Notes:In English.
    Gift of Paul Keane, 2013.
  • Organization:Arranged chronologically.
  • Access and use:This material is open for research.
  • Biographical / Historical note:Isabel Wilder, sister of American author and playwright Thornton Wilder.
    Paul Keane, graduate of Yale Divinity School (1980).
  • Summary:Collection of approximately 70 pieces of correspondence, chiefly autograph manuscript letters and cards, signed, from Isabel Wilder to Paul Keane dating from Keane's efforts on behalf of a Bicentennial Commission of the Town of Hamden, Connecticut to establish a museum room containing Wilder family memorabilia commemorating Thornton Wilder. With one letter, autograph manuscript, signed, from Thornton Wilder to Keane and several pieces of correspondence from Keane to Isabel Wilder and others.
  • Format:Archives or Manuscripts
  • Cite as:Isabel Wilder Letters to Paul Keane. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
  • Subjects:Keane, Paul.
    Wilder, Isabel, 1900-1995.
    Wilder, Thornton, 1897-1975.
    American literature--20th century.
    Authors, English--20th century--Archives.
    Hamden (Conn.)
  • Occupation:Authors United States 20th century.


"Literary Birth Pains of 'the Gay Ivy:' 

Yale, 1985"

Paul Keane
(recommended to researchers of this collection as an introduction)

See also:


History's Demand, Miss Wilder, Paul Keane : 1975-1995


Thornton Wilder: An "insufficient sense of the tragic."

(Work in progress. I will search items without dates or postmarks for internal clues  which provide a date or at least a position in a chronology, clues which I will note hereafter.)

" Isabella was proud of all her children, hovering over them in person or through long, chatty letters; avidly following their projects; bolstering their spirits during hard times; and, as she had done all their lives, 
cheering their asperations and achievements." (p.459+)

Penelope Niven 
(of Isabel and Thornton Wilder's mother) 
in her biography,
Thornton Wilder, a life

Miss Wilder and my parents:
1985 dedication of  recreated Thornton Wilder study
at 'our town'
(Hamden, Connecticut's Miller Memorial )
Isabel and Thornton Wilder maintained an open-door policy toward letter writers, as a way of repaying society for Thornton's instant, world-wide fame after the publication of The Bridge of San Luis Rey in 1928.

Done the Right Way

It was pretty difficult to read again Miss Wilder's words in one of these notes, "You have wasted your life."

But I know what she meant, then and now. 

 She meant (link) my work on the Kent State issue . She was adamant that "you must give up  Kent State" in 1977 and agreed to fund  my project Kent State First Amendment Conservation Task-Force (F.A.C.T.) in exchange for my promise that I would abandon  the Kent issue thereafter, a promise I kept until after her death in 1995. 

 She was equally adamant that my work on disclosing the heterosexual transmission of A.I.D.S.(link) on "60 Minutes" was a dead end street ( not a career enhancer) , even though she anonymously funded (and read without blinking an eye --- to my shock!) the pamphlet I created with a Yale biology professor entitled "Needles, Sex, and A.I.D.S." which was distributed to all Yale students through the offices of President Giamatti at Yale in 1983, years before HIV had been identified. ]

Pretty "cool" for a lady in her 70's, then 80's, to support these 'radical' issues back then, despite her disapproval of my participation in them when she thought I should be building a professional foundation.

Over the 20 years we were friends, Miss Wilder funded (along with my father)  the first year of my (1992-97) at Middlebury College's Bread Loaf School of English (where she had attended 60 years before); she alone funded my move to Oregon to be at my mother's deathbed when she was stranded 3000 miles from her Hamden home in an Intensive Care Unit for 118-days, fully conscious*,  while on vacation with my father in 1985; and my three-month  unpaid internship at Whitcomb High School in Bethel, Vermont, in order to obtain a Vermont teaching certificate in 1986 ( a special one-year option passed by the Vermont Legislature  that year which allowed bypassing the regular 'education courses').  

"I certainly will help you out," she immediately wrote when I announced I had been offered this internship with no pay. Without her help, I never would have been able to become a Vermont English teacher, a profession from which I retired last year after 25 years.

I visited Miss Wilder for the last time in Whitney Center in 1993 when she was 93, two years before she died. 

The living room was abuzz with nurses, a housekeeper and her amanuensis/secretary whose handwriting is on many of the following letters in the last years of Miss Wilder's life.  

Miss Wilder received me alone in her bedroom where she was confined to bed.  My father had died the year before and for the first time in my life I was solvent. I was able to bring her a dozen tulips, albeit artificial ones.

 Miss Wilder asked me to get her checkbook and write a check for her.  

I had the good sense to say, "Miss Wilder  I think it would be a very bad idea for me to see your checkbook and an even worse idea for my handwriting to appear in it."

 I declined to do the favor.

Before I left I asked if I could give her a kiss on the cheek and I bent over and did so.  

It is the first time I had been so demonstrative in our almost twenty-years of friendship. 

I thanked her for all she had done for me over the years and she said, "I decided if it was going to be done, it had to be done the right way."

It was, Miss Wilder.

It was.

Paul D. Keane, 
M.A., M.Div., M.Ed.

* I sound blase 28 years later but at the time it was a full-blown crisis; even Miss Wilder said as the months of my mother's being stranded wore on, that she had "never heard of anything like it."


"To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth." --Voltaire

"Isn't it all fabulous, just being alive - "
(from one of Miss Wilder's letters to me 
at 91, announcing her older brother's WW I letters, 1919-21,  have been discovered and Yale Press will publish them, 1991)

"What a cruel frightening world it is. I can't cope with it longer."
( Another letter, at 92, September 10, 1992, telling me that even with the "machine" she uses, her eyesight has so worsened that she "can barely see the edge of the paper.")

"I am going to talk turkey."
(typed letter, October 8,1986 the year after my mother died.)

Circa 1978 attending  a social gathering at the invitation of Miss Wilder.
     "Miss Wilder, 1900-1995: Promises Kept"                        

                               Link to 
Thornton Wilder Commemorative, 1985


 This Oregon address does not match Vermont content of letter (?!)

Did I send to Miss Wilder to cheer her up these  Clerihews (nonsense poems) I composed?  
Was I hurt  when she returned them here with no mention of them?  Twenty-seven years has erased the memory.

My dear friend, Patrice Lee sent me this card of encouragement after my  teaching internship, before I had found a "real job" .  Miss Wilder had taken her and me to dinner at the Lawn Club circa 1981  It appears at this point in my Miss Wilder folder.  Seven years later Pat and I would attend the 50th anniversary Broadway production of Our Town (below).

I asked Miss Wilder to sign this memento from the Broadway 50th anniversary production of Our Town to my father, who had been a widower for three years in 1988.

 NOTE: Although this was approved by the associate dean at the divinity school, it turned out to be against IRS regulations and all donations had to be returned.  So much for the divinity school's knowledge of worldly matters !  Very embarrassing !

(work in progress)
To read  candid  background to original letters to Mr. Wilder, click the following link to my eulogy for one of the members of the Hamden Bicentennial Commission Jeaniegray Oleson 


Intentionally penned in red ink.

The log-jam was broken when I persuaded G. Harold Welch to join the Reconvened Bicentennial Commission. He was then 84, but still very active as New Haven's most prominent real estate investor . (He owned the the Century Building and property on which sat Macy's in the Chapel Square Mall complex) and Hamden's wealthiest resident. He knew Thornton Wilder and told me, "He was the most nervous man I ever met." 

The Hamden Chronicle failed to 
note that these "friends" of 
Thornton Wilder were the artist 
and his wife, Clarence A Brodeur, 
who painted and donated the 
portrait of  Wilder  (immediately 
behind him on the wall in 
this picture) to the Hamden 
Bicentennial Commission.


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