E. B. White
White on the beach with his dachshund Minnie
Born
Elwyn Brooks White

July 11, 1899
DiedOctober 1, 1985(1985-10-01) (aged 86)
Resting placeBrooklin Cemetery, Brooklin, Maine, U.S.
Alma materCornell University (BA)
OccupationWriter
Spouse
(m. 1929; died 1977)
ChildrenJoel White
Signature

Elwyn Brooks White (July 11, 1899 – October 1, 1985)[1] was an American writer. He was the author of several highly popular books for children, including Stuart Little (1945), Charlotte's Web (1952), and The Trumpet of the Swan (1970).

In a 2012 survey of School Library Journal readers, Charlotte's Web was ranked first in their poll of the top one hundred children's novels.[2] White also was a contributing editor to The New Yorker magazine and co-author of The Elements of Style, an English language style guide.

Early life and education

White was born in Mount Vernon, New York, the sixth and youngest child of Samuel Tilly White, the president of a piano firm, and Jessie Hart White, the daughter of Scottish-American painter William Hart.[3] Elwyn's older brother Stanley Hart White, known as Stan, a professor of landscape architecture and the inventor of the vertical garden, taught E.B. White to read and explore the natural world.[4]

While attending Cornell University, White was very briefly a private in the Student Army Training Corps (SATC). In early 1918, the War Department created the SATC to hasten the training of soldiers for the war in Europe. Students continued to take college courses while training for the army. Unlike the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), SATC students were required to live and take all meals on campus and adhered to a strict military schedule of study and training. They also required a pass to go off campus on weekends. Following the end of World War I, the SATC program was disbanded in December 1918, and White did not serve with the active armed forces.[5][6][7][8]

In 1921, White graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Arts degree. At Cornell, he obtained the nickname "Andy", where tradition confers that moniker on any male student whose surname is White after Cornell co-founder Andrew Dickson White.[9] He worked as editor of The Cornell Daily Sun with classmate Allison Danzig, who later became a sportswriter for The New York Times. As a Cornell University student, White was a member of Aleph Samach,[10] Quill and Dagger,[11][12] and Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.[13][14]

Career

White in his twenties

After graduating from Cornell, White went to work for the United Press, later United Press International, and the American Legion News Service in 1921 and 1922. From September 1922 to June 1923, he was a cub reporter for The Seattle Times. On one occasion, when White was stuck writing a story, a Times editor said, "Just say the words."[15]

White was fired from the Times and later wrote for the rival Seattle Post-Intelligencer before a stint in Alaska on a fireboat.[16] He then worked for almost two years with the Frank Seaman advertising agency as a production assistant and copywriter[17] before returning to New York City in 1924.

In 1925, after The New Yorker was founded, White began submitting manuscripts to the magazine. Katharine Angell, the literary editor, recommended to editor-in-chief and founder Harold Ross that White be hired as a staff writer. However, it took months to convince White to attend a meeting at the office and additional weeks to convince him to work on the premises. He eventually agreed to work in the office on Thursdays.[18]

White published his first article for The New Yorker in 1925, then joined the staff in 1927, and continued to write for the magazine for nearly six decades. Best recognized for his essays and unsigned "Notes and Comment" pieces, he gradually became the magazine's most important contributor. From the beginning to the end of his career at The New Yorker, he frequently provided what the magazine calls "Newsbreaks", which were short, witty comments on oddly worded printed items from many sources, under various categories, such as "Block That Metaphor." He also was a columnist for Harper's Magazine from 1938 to 1943.

In 1949, White published Here Is New York, a short book based on an article he had been commissioned to write for Holiday. Editor Ted Patrick approached White about writing the essay, telling him it would be fun. "Writing is never 'fun'", White replied.[19] That article reflects the writer's appreciation of a city that provides its residents with both "the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy." It concludes with a dark note touching on the forces that could destroy the city that he loved. This prescient "love letter" to the city was re-published in 1999 on his centennial with an introduction by his stepson, Roger Angell.

In 1959, White edited and updated The Elements of Style. This handbook of grammatical and stylistic guidance for writers of American English was first written and published in 1918 by William Strunk Jr., one of White's professors at Cornell. White's reworking of the book was extremely well received, and later editions followed in 1972, 1979, and 1999. Maira Kalman illustrated an edition in 2005. That same year, Nico Muhly, a New York City composer, premiered a short opera based on the book. The volume is a standard tool for students and writers and remains required reading in many composition classes. The complete history of The Elements of Style is detailed in Mark Garvey's Stylized: A Slightly Obsessive History of Strunk & White's The Elements of Style.

In 1978, White was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize, citing "his letters, essays and the full body of his work".[20] He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 and honorary memberships in a variety of literary societies throughout the United States. The 1973 Oscar-nominated Canadian animated short The Family That Dwelt Apart was narrated by White and was based on his short story of the same name.[21]

Children's books

In the late 1930s, White turned his hand to children's fiction on behalf of a niece, Janice Hart White. His first children's book, Stuart Little, was published in 1945, and Charlotte's Web followed in 1952. Stuart Little initially received a lukewarm welcome from the literary community. However, both books went on to receive high acclaim, and Charlotte's Web won a Newbery Honor from the American Library Association, though it lost out on winning the Newbery Medal to Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark.

White received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal from the U.S. professional children's librarians in 1970. It recognized his "substantial and lasting contributions to children's literature."[22] That year, he was also the U.S. nominee and eventual runner-up for the biennial Hans Christian Andersen Award, as he was again in 1976.[23][24] Also, in 1970, White's third children's novel was published, The Trumpet of the Swan. In 1973 it won the Sequoyah Award from Oklahoma and the William Allen White Award from Kansas, both selected by students voting for their favorite book of the year. In 2012, the School Library Journal sponsored a survey of readers, which identified Charlotte's Web as the best children's novel ("fictional title for readers 8–12" years old). The librarian who conducted it said, "It is impossible to conduct a poll of this sort and expect [White's novel] to be anywhere but #1."[2][25]

Awards and honors

Personal life

White was shy around women, claiming he had "too small a heart, too large a pen".[26] But in 1929, after an affair that led to Katharine Angell's divorce, she and White were married. They had a son, Joel White, a naval architect and boat builder, who later owned Brooklin Boat Yard in Brooklin, Maine. Katharine's son from her first marriage, Roger Angell, spent decades as a fiction editor for The New Yorker and was well known as the magazine's baseball writer.[27]

In her foreword to Charlotte's Web, Kate DiCamillo quotes White as saying, "All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world."[28] White also loved animals, farms and farming implements, seasons, and weather formats.[citation needed]

James Thurber described White as a quiet man who disliked publicity and who, during his time at The New Yorker, would slip out of his office via the fire escape to a nearby branch of Schrafft's to avoid visitors he didn't know:

Most of us, out of a politeness made up of faint curiosity and profound resignation, go out to meet the smiling stranger with a gesture of surrender and a fixed grin, but White has always taken to the fire escape. He has avoided the Man in the Reception Room as he has avoided the interviewer, the photographer, the microphone, the rostrum, the literary tea, and the Stork Club. His life is his own. He is the only writer of prominence I know of who could walk through the Algonquin lobby or between the tables at Jack and Charlie's and be recognized only by his friends.

— James Thurber, E.B.W., "Credos and Curios"

Death

Later in life, White developed Alzheimer's disease. He died on October 1, 1985, at his farm home in North Brooklin, Maine.[1] He is buried in the Brooklin Cemetery beside Katharine, who died in 1977.[29]

Legacy

The E.B. White Read Aloud Award is given by The Association of Booksellers for Children (ABC) to honor books that its membership feel embodies the universal read-aloud standards that E.B. White's works created.

Bibliography

Books

Essays and reporting

References

  1. ^ a b Mitgang, Herbert (October 2, 1985). "E.B. White, Essayist and Stylist, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
  2. ^ a b "SLJ's Top 100 Children's Novels" Archived January 5, 2014, at the Wayback Machine (poster presentation of reader poll results). A Fuse #8 Production. School Library Journal. 2012. Retrieved June 17, 2013.
  3. ^ Root, Robert L. (1999). E.B. White: The Emergence of an Essayist. University of Iowa Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-87745-667-4.
  4. ^ Hindle, Richard L. (2013). "Stanley Hart White and the question of 'What is Modern?'". Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes. 33 (3): 170–177. doi:10.1080/14601176.2013.807653. S2CID 162577251.
  5. ^ U.S. Veterans Administration (August 8, 2019). "United States, Veterans Administration Master Index, 1917-1940". FamilySearch. Retrieved April 26, 2022.
  6. ^ Anonymous. "Hopkins and the Great War: Student Army Training Corps". Hopkins and the Great War: Student Army Training Corps. Retrieved April 26, 2022.
  7. ^ E.B. White; Personal Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved January 12, 2022.
  8. ^ Elwyn Brooks "E.B." White, writer, was born 122 years ago today Archived October 11, 2022, at the Wayback Machine Frank Beacham's Journal. Retrieved January 12, 2022.
  9. ^ "Building Cornell University Library's Collections: E.B. White '21". Cornell University Library. Retrieved July 11, 2019. His nickname, "Andy," dates from his years at Cornell. According to Cornell tradition, all male students named White were nicknamed after Cornell's first president, Andrew Dickson White.
  10. ^ White, Elwyn Brooks; Guth, Dorothy Lobrano; White, Martha (2006). "Cornell and the Open Road". Letters of E.B. White (Revised ed.). New York City: HarperCollins. pp. 17–19. ISBN 978-0-06-075708-3.
  11. ^ Courtney, Nadine Jolie (August 9, 2016). "Ivy League Secret Societies". Town & Country. Retrieved February 27, 2024.
  12. ^ "5 Most Famous Cornell Alumni". Digital Magazine of Cornell Alumni. July 5, 2017. Retrieved February 27, 2024.
  13. ^ "A room of White's own". Cornell Chronicle. August 29, 2013. Retrieved February 27, 2024.
  14. ^ Epstein, Joseph (April 1, 1986). "E.B. White, Dark & Lite". Commentary Magazine. Retrieved February 27, 2024.
  15. ^ "Week 20 – Writing Quotations". www.joesutt.com. December 28, 2009. Retrieved October 25, 2015.
  16. ^ Long, Priscilla (July 26, 2001). "The Seattle Times fires E.B. White on June 19, 1923". HistoryLink. Retrieved February 23, 2020.
  17. ^ "E.B. White Biography". Encyclopedia of World Biography. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
  18. ^ Thurber, James (1969). "E.B.W.". Credos and Curios. Penguin Books. p. 124. ISBN 978-0-14-003044-0.
  19. ^ Callahan, Michael. "The Visual and Writerly Genius of Holiday Magazine". Vanity Fair. Retrieved June 12, 2018.
  20. ^ a b "Special Awards and Citations". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved December 2, 2013.
  21. ^ "The Family That Dwelt Apart". National Film Board of Canada. October 11, 2012. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
  22. ^ a b "Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, Past winners". ALSC. ALA.
      "About the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award". ALSC. ALA. Retrieved June 17, 2013.
  23. ^ Weales, Gerald (May 24, 1970). "The Designs of E.B. White". The New York Times. Page BR22.
  24. ^ "Candidates for the Hans Christian Andersen Awards 1956–2002". The Hans Christian Andersen Awards, 1956–2002. IBBY. Gyldendal. 2002. Pages 110–18. Hosted by Austrian Literature Online (literature.at). Retrieved July 16, 2013.
  25. ^ Bird, Elizabeth (July 2, 2012). "Top 100 Children's Novels #1: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White". A Fuse #8 Production. School Library Journal. Retrieved June 17, 2013.
  26. ^ "Is Sex Necessary?". The Attic. Retrieved September 8, 2018.
  27. ^ Remnick, David (May 20, 2022). "Remembering Roger Angell, Hall of Famer". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved February 23, 2024.
  28. ^ White, E.B. (1952). Charlotte's Web. Harper. p. ii. ISBN 978-0-06-440055-8.
  29. ^ Elledge, Scott (1984). E.B. White: A Biography. New York: W.W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-01771-7.
  30. ^ Elledge, Scott (1986). E. B. White: a Biography. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. pp. 383. ISBN 978-0-393-30305-6.