Life Sketch of Thomas Thornburg
Born Thomas Ray Thornburg on September 23, 1937, to Robert and Dorothy (Hickey) Thornburg in Muncie, Indiana. Thomas was the third of five Thornburg children. His siblings include Rose, who died in infancy, Jerry, Danny, and Judith—all who preceded Thomas in death. Thomas attended Muncie schools, including Southside High School, from which he graduated 1955. He completed his education by earning a doctorate at Ball State University in 1969.
Thornburg and Indianapolis native, Sharon Robey, married in 1961, producing four offspring: Donald, Eustacia, Amanda, and Myles. In 1985, Sharon died after a long illness. Thornburg then married Mary Patterson.
Thornburg spent his working life as an educator, teaching high school English at Yorktown and Pike High School in Indianapolis. He served as chairman of the English Department at Pike. After completing the Ph.D. degree at Ball State, he joined the Ball State English Department faculty, where he served as professor until his 1998 retirement, after which he was awarded the status of Professor Emeritus at Ball State University.
Thornburg’s Writing Life
A fine poet, Thomas Thornburg published the following collections of poems: Saturday Town (Dragon’s Teeth Press, 1976), Ancient Letters (The Barnwood Press, 1987), Munseetown (Two Magpies Press, 2001), and American Ballads: New and Selected Poems (AuthorHouse, 2009).
In addition to poetry, Thornburg authored two monographs at Ball State University: Prospero, The Magician-Artist: Auden’s “The Sea and the Mirror” (Number 15, 1969) and Jonathan Swift and the Ciceronian Tradition (Number 28, 1980). He also composed rhetorical analyses of the works of many writers, including Charles Darwin, Daniel Defoe, John Donne, Robert Frost, and Karl Shapiro. He published a novel titled Where Summer Strives (AuthorHouse, 2006), and for CliffsNotes, he did a work up of Plato’s Republic (2000).
Thornburg served as the lyricist for The Masque of Poesie, which was produced in 1977 on the Ball State University campus and also performed for the silver jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.
As a native of Muncie, Indiana, Thornburg once quipped, “I have traveled a good deal in Muncie”—echoing with his allusion, Henry David Thoreau’s, “I have traveled a good deal in Concord (MA).” After his retirement from Ball State, Thornburg relocated from Muncie, Indiana, to Bozeman, Montana, where they resided with his wife until his passing on July 8, 2020.
Tribute to Professor Thomas Thornburg
I owe Professor Thornburg the debt of gratitude for instilling in me the seriousness of purpose required for the writing life. He served as my advisor at Ball State University (1984-87), providing invaluable guidance as I researched, analyzed, and composed “William Butler Yeats’ Transformations of Eastern Religious Concepts,” my dissertation for the Ph.D. degree in British, American, and World Literature.
As I sat for the professor’s course in classical rhetoric, I became captivated and delighted with the seriousness of purpose that drove the ancients to pursue fairness, precision, and truth in their discourse. Also because of Professor Thornburg’s influence and example, I came to appreciate more deeply the value of pursuing accuracy, concision, and thoroughness in all written composition.
Anything worth writing is worth serious attention to honesty of purpose. Classical rhetoric has remained one of my favorite areas of interest as I pursue improving my skills as a writer.