White, E. B. (1899-1985)

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White, E. B. (1899-1985)

Charlotte's Web author E. B. White has delighted people of all ages with his essays, poems, and classic children's stories since the 1920s. He was one of the early New Yorker writers and helped set the tone that established it as the magazine of elegant writing that it continued to be for decades.

Elwyn Brooks White graduated from Cornell University, where he was the editor of the Cornell Sun. He worked as a journalist and a copywriter in an advertising agency before joining the infant New Yorker in 1926. (Katharine Angell, who hired him, later became his wife.) From 1938-43, White contributed the monthly column "One Man's Meat" to Harper's magazine.

White's elegant yet informal, humorous, and humanitarian writing covered diverse subjects. Following the premature death of a pig in 1947 at the Whites' rural home in Maine, White said he wrote an essay "in grief, as a man who failed to raise his pig." This same writing style is apparent in White's three classic children's books: Stuart Little (1945), about a mouse born to a human family and his adventures while searching for his best friend, a beautiful bird; Charlotte's Web (1952), in which a spider named Charlotte cleverly saves Wilbur the pig from death; and The Trumpet of the Swan (1970), in which a mute trumpeter swan tries to win the affection of the beautiful swan Serena.

In 1957 White published an essay praising his former Cornell English professor, William Strunk Jr., for his forty-three-page handbook on grammar—"the little book." White praised Strunk's attempt "to cut the vast tangle of English rhetoric down to size and write its rules and principles on the head of a pin." A publisher coaxed the ever-modest White into reviving and revising The Elements of Style (1959), known among its users as "Strunk and White," which has remained a fundamental text. White bolstered the original with an essay titled "An Approach to Style," which remains a timeless reflection of the virtues of good writing.

—R. Thomas Berner

Further Reading:

Elledge, Scott. E. B. White: A Biography. New York, W. W. Norton, 1984.

Guth, Dorothy Lobrano, ed. Letters of E. B. White. New York, Harper& Row, 1976.

Hall, Katherine Romans. E. B. White: A Bibliographic Catalogue of Printed Materials in the Department of Rare Books, Cornell University Library. New York, Garland Publishing, 1979.

Root, Robert L. Jr., editor. Critical Essays on E. B. White. New York, G. K. Hall, 1994.

Russell, Isabel. Katharine and E. B. White: An Affectionate Memoir. New York, W. W. Norton, 1988.

Strunk, William Jr., and E. B. White. The Elements of Style. New York, Macmillan, 1959.

White, E. B. Essays of E. B. White. New York, Harper & Row, 1977.

——. One Man's Meat. New York, Harper & Row, 1942.