James Grover Thurber was born in Columbus, Ohio on December 8, 1894 to Charles Leander and Mary Agnes Thurber. In his early childhood, after the family moved to Virginia, he became permanently blind in his left eye after being shot with an arrow while playing with his older brother. His family eventually moved back to Ohio, where Thurber attended high school and Ohio State University. It was there he met his first wife Althea Adams. He would drop out of university after failing to finish the Reserve Officer Training Course due to his blindness.
In 1926, Thurber moved to New York City and a year later he met writer E.B. White. He went on to join the staff of The New Yorker magazine and, with help from White, he also published his first book: Is Sex Necessary? (1929). He first worked as an editor, but he began drawing eclectic pieces for the magazine, including stylized characterizations of seals, tigers, men and women, and dogs. Thurber's daughter Rosemary was born in 1931 and after several years of marital unrest, he divorced Althea in 1935. He married Helen Wismer later that year.
Thurber continued to publish books throughout the '30s and in 1939 he wrote The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. The short story would go on to be regarded as one of his best and was subsequently adapted for film in 1947. By the end of his career, Thurber had written nearly 40 books and won a Tony Award for his Broadway play A Thurber Carnival.
On November 2, 1961, at 61 years of age, Thurber died of pneumonia. He was buried in Columbus’ Green Lawn Cemetary. In 1998, neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran examined the visual experiences James Thurber described throughout his life, including citings of "a gay old lady with a grey parasol walking right through the side of a truck," and "bridges rising lazily into the air, like balloons."
In his book Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind, Ramachandran suggested that due to Thurber's blindness from childhood, he'd developed Charles Bonnet Syndrome, which was a condition that caused him to have complex visual hallucinations without the presence of any mental deficiency.