MacNeil served as executive and co-anchor of The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour for 20 years. His forty year career also includes positions at Reuters News Agency, NBC News and the BBC. He is the author of three novels, Burden of Desire, The Voyage and Breaking News; three memoirs, The Right Place at the Right Time, Wordstruck, and Looking For My Country; and co-author of The Story of English and the sequel, Do You Speak American? Since 1993 he has been Chairman of the MacDowell Colony.
The Thornton Wilder Prize honors an individual who practices his or her calling with the distinction, devotion and zest that characterized Wilder.