Wednesday, July 11, 2012

E.B. White co-wrote writing guide

E.B. White
It is the birthday of writer E.B. White (1899), who is best remembered for being co-author of The Elements of Style, the well known English language style guide also known as Strunk and White, and for his children's books, and Stuart Little (1945) and Charlotte's Web (1952).

White joined the staff of The New Yorker in 1925, and was a contributor for about 60 years. He married the magazine's literary editor, Katharine Angell, and they had a farm in Maine. White was a quiet man who avoided meeting new visitors to his office by exiting down the fire escape.

The Elements of Style was first written by William Strunk, Jr. , White's English professor at Cornell University, and published in 1918. It was a short, concise list of words often misspelled, expressions often misused and rules for writing proper English. White had used it when he was in school but by 1957, when he was at The New Yorker, he had forgotten about it. That's when it came across it and wrote a feature story about his old professor's devotion to clear, concise writing.

White was commissioned by Macmillian and Company to revise the Strunk's book. He modernized and expanded it with an introduction about Strunk and a final chapter, An Approach to Style, as a broader guide to clear writing. It was published in 1959 and sold two million copies. Since then it has been revised several times and new editions have been published, including an illustrated edition in 2005. More than 10 million copies of the various editions have been sold.

White wrote Stuart Little for his niece. It is the story of a mouse that is born to human parents and their adventures and misadventures. White said the idea for the story came to him in a railway sleeping car when he dreamed about a tiny boy who acted like a mouse.

Charlotte's Web, about a barn spider and her relationship with a pig whom she saves from slaughter, has become a favorite in classic children's literature. It was adapted as an animated feature and a live action film.

White received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little. He won an honorary Pulitzer Prize for his body of work, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963.

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