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E. B. White
E. B. White sitting on the beach with his dog Minnie.
Born Elwyn Brooks White
July 11, 1899
Mount Vernon, New York
Died October 1, 1985 (aged 86)
North Brooklin, Maine
Alma mater Cornell University
Elwyn Brooks White (July 11, 1899 – October 1, 1985), usually known as E. B. White, was an American writer. He was a contributor to The New Yorker magazine and a co-author of the English language style guide, The Elements of Style, which is commonly known as “Strunk & White.” He also wrote 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, the president of a piano firm, and Jessie Hart White. He served in the army before going to college. White graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1921. He picked up the nickname “Andy” at Cornell University, 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 Cornell 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 worked for the United Press International and the American Legion News Service in 1921 and 1922 and then became a reporter for the Seattle Times in 1922 and 1923. White then worked for two years with the Frank Seaman advertising agency as a production assistant and copywriter 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 boatbuilder, 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.
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”
White died on October 1, 1985 with Alzheimer’s disease at his farm home in North Brooklin, Maine. He is buried in the Brooklin Cemetery beside his wife Katharine, who died in 1977.