Elwyn Brooks White (July 11, 1899–October 1, 1985) was an American essayist, author, and noted prose stylist. He is most famous today for a writers' style guide, The Elements of Style, and for three children's books generally considered to be classics of the field.
White was born in Mount Vernon, New York and graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1921. His nickname "Andy" derives from Cornell co-founder Andrew Dickson White--any student thereafter named White was called Andy. He spent several years working as a writer for the Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer and as an ad man before returning to New York City in 1924.
He published his first article in the newly founded The New Yorker magazine in 1925, then joined the staff in 1927. This made him moderately famous for the next six decades as he produced a long series of essays and unsigned "Notes and Comments" that were widely read as the magazine grew in influence. He gradually became the most important contributor to The New Yorker at a time when it was arguably the most important American literary magazine. He also served as a columnist for Harper's Magazine from 1938 to 1943.
In the late 1930s he turned his hand to children's fiction on behalf of a niece. His first children's book, Stuart Little, was published in 1945, and Charlotte's Web appeared in 1952. Both were highly acclaimed, and in 1970 jointly won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal, a major prize in the field of children's literature. In the same year, he published his third children's novel, The Trumpet of the Swan . In 1973, it received the Seqouyah Award from Oklahoma and the William Allen White Award from Kansas. The school children in these states voted and decided this was their "favorite book" of the year.
In 1959 he edited and updated the classic The Elements of Style. Originally written and published in 1918 by William Strunk Jr., the book is a handbook of grammatical and stylistic dos and don'ts for written American English. White had studied under Strunk while at Cornell in the years following World War I. Further editions of the work followed in 1972, 1979, and 2000. It is a standard tool for students and writers.
In 1978 he was awarded a special 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. White was also a world federalist, and once said:
- Government is the thing. Law is the thing. Not brotherhood, not international cooperation, not security councils that can stop war only by waging it...Where does security lie, anyway - security against the thief, the murderer? In brotherly love? Not at all. It lies in government.
He died on October 1, 1985 at his farm home in North Brooklin, Maine and was interred at the Brooklin Cemetery.
White married Katharine Sergeant Angell in 1929, also an editor at the magazine and author (as Katharine White) of Onward and Upward in the Garden . They had a son, Joel, a boatbuilder. Katharine's son from her first marriage, Roger Angell, was a fiction editor for the New Yorker, but is perhaps better known as a baseball writer.
White's style was stereotypically "Yankee": wry, understated, thoughtful, and informed. He was widely regarded as a master of the English language, noted for clear, well-constructed, and charming prose.
- One Man's Meat
- Once More to the Lake
- The Points of My Compass
- The Second Tree from the Corner
- The Essays of E.B. White
- Letters of E.B. White
- Poems and Sketches of E.B. White
- The Wild Flag
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04