What do you give an icon for his 125th birthday?

Columbus-born humorist and cartoonist James Thurber (1894–1961) is honored every day at Thurber House, the literary center and museum in his family’s onetime residence on Jefferson Avenue.

In 2019, however, the organization will ramp up promotion of its namesake son. To commemorate what would have been the humorist’s 125th birthday, Thurber House will coordinate the efforts of 10 organizations as part of the “Year of Thurber.” 

“He is celebrating his 125th year—well, it seemed like one of those nice numbers,” says Barbie Tootle, chair of the Year of Thurber committee. “And the other coincidence is that it will also be the 35th year of Thurber House.”

Festivities officially got underway during the year of Thurber’s 124th birthday. On Dec. 5, the Thurber Prize for American Humor was awarded in Columbus to Patricia Lockwood, author of the acclaimed memoir “Priestdaddy,” her story of growing up with a Catholic priest as her father. After many years of holding the award presentation in New York, it was permanently relocated to Thurber’s hometown in 2018. 

“We thought, ‘Well, that would be a neat way to kick it off—to bring the prize back to Columbus,’” Tootle says.

No matter the number of candles on his cake, Thurber remains a timeless force in humor, says Thurber House deputy director Anne Touvell. “He writes about men, women, human nature and animals, in particular dogs,” Touvell says. “Anybody can find something within his work to relate to.” 

Year of Thurber events will take place throughout 2019. Here are some of the highlights. 

Conrade Hinds: Evenings with Authors
Jan. 30, Columbus Museum of Art
Hinds, author of a nonfiction book on the Great Flood of 1913, will speak about the deluge that overwhelmed the Midwest. There also will be a reading of Thurber’s 1933 short story “The Day the Dam Broke,” which takes the flood as its comedic subject. Guests will include representatives from Opera Columbus and the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra, which will premiere an original opera about the flood on Feb. 8 at the Southern Theatre.

Michael Rosen: Summer Literary Picnics
June 13, Thurber House side lawn
Rosen, previously a literary director at Thurber House, recently edited the book “James Thurber: Collected Fables” (HarperCollins, February 2019), which merges material from the author’s “Fables for Our Time” and “Further Fables for Our Time.” Touvell hopes to have locals read fables aloud at the event.

A Mile and a Half of Lines: The Art of James Thurber
Aug. 24–March 15, 2020, Columbus 
Museum of Art
Despite Thurber’s prominence in Central Ohio, his art has not been given a solo show at the museum since 1936. That will change with this exhibit boasting about 50 of his works, curated by Rosen, who also wrote a new book of his own to accompany it. “[Thurber] was an important figure in the cartooning world, as well as being an author,” says museum curator-at-large Carole Genshaft. “I think it’s very appropriate that we have him here.”

Additional exhibits of Thurber’s work will take place at Ohio State University’s Thompson Library (May 15–Aug. 18) and Keny Galleries in German Village (late fall).

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