Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Influences #14 (E.B. White)

Charlotte’s Web. Before I read “Gone With The Wind” - I was in love with Charlotte and her web. First read to me when I was in the first grade. And yes, I saw the animation version. Is there a child in the world who hasn’t read, been read this book? But E.B. White wrote more than Charlotte’s Web. And his work was perhaps the very first nugget of inspiration towards me becoming a writer. While most writer names slip right off the tongue, E.B. White may not be as popular as some of his works. His is often the name that you just can’t quite recollect.

Not only did I have the pleasure of reading Charlotte’s Web to my little sister, but now to my little nephew. I love peeking over at his wide eyes while I read. And that little smile on his face is priceless.

Elwyn Brooks White, born July 11th, passing away on October 1st, 1985. He was an American writer and a long-time contributor to The New Yorker magazine and a co-author of the widely-used “English Language Style Guide“, “The Elements of Style“, which is commonly known as "Strunk & White". He also wrote famous books for children including “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little”.

White was born in Mount Vernon, New York, the youngest child of Samuel Tilly White, a piano manufacturer, and Jessie Hart. He served in the army before going on to college. White graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1921. He picked up the nickname "Andy" at Cornell, where tradition confers that moniker on any male student surnamed White, after Cornell co-founder Andrew Dickson White. While at Cornell, he worked as editor of The Cornel Daily Sun with classmate Allison Danzig who later became a sportswriter for The New York Times.

White was also a member of the Aleph Samach and Quill and Dagger societies and Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI). He wrote for The Seattle Times and Seattle Post - Intelligencer and worked in an advertising agency before returning to New York City in 1924. Not long after The New Yorker was founded in 1925, White would submit manuscripts to it Katharine Angell, the literary editor, recommended to magazine editor and founder Harold Ross that White be taken on as staff. However, it took months to convince him to come to a meeting at the office, and further weeks to convince him to agree to work on the premises. Eventually he agreed to work in the office on Thursdays.

A few years later in 1929, White and Angell were married. They had a son, Joel White, a naval architect and boat-builder, who owned Brooklin Boatyard in Brooklin, Maine. Katharine's son from her first marriage, Roger Angell, has spent decades as a fiction editor for The New Yorker and is well known as the magazine's baseball writer.

James Thurber described White as being a quiet man, disliking publicity, 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 whom he didn't know.

White died from Alzheimer’s disease on October 1, 1985, at his farm home in North Brooklin, Maine. He is buried in the Brooklin Cemetery beside his wife Katharine, who died in 1977.

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

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, which was published in 1945, and Charlotte’s Web appeared in 1952. Stuart Little received a lukewarm welcome from the literary community at first, due in part to the reluctance to endorse it by Anne Carroll Moore, the retired but still powerful children's librarian from the New York Public Library. However, both went on to receive high acclaim and in 1970, jointly won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, a major prize in the field of children's literature. In the same year, White published his third children's novel, “The Trumpet Of The Swan” In 1973, that book received the Sequoyah Award from Oklahoma and the William Allen Whiye Award from Kansas, both of which were awarded by students voting for their favorite book of the year.

In 1949, White published “Here Is New York”, a short book based upon a holiday magazine article that he had been asked to write. The article reflects the writer's appreciation of a city that provides its residents with both "the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy," and concludes with a dark note touching upon the forces that may destroy the city that the writer loves. This prescient "love letter" to the city was re-published in 1999 on the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth, 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 had been written and published in 1918 by William Strunk Jr., one of White's professors at Cornell. White's rework of the book was extremely well received, and further editions of the work followed in 1972, 1979, and 1999; an illustrated edition followed in 2005. The illustrator, Maira Kalman, is a contributor to the New Yorker. That same year, a New York composer named Nico Muhly 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 and White’s The Elements of Style.”

In 1978, White won an honorary Pulitzer Prize for his work as a whole. Other awards he received included a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963 and memberships in a variety of literary societies throughout the United States.

The 1973 Canadian animated short, “The Family That Dwelt Apart”, is based on his short story of the same name, and is narrated by White.

Source: Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._B._White

This work is released under CC 3.0 BY-SA - http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

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