Remembering the beloved essayist and children’s book author who was born on July 11, 1899.
Long before Elwyn Brooks White introduced us to a “terrific” pig named Wilbur and a little talking mouse named Stuart, he had already made a name for himself as a writer for the New Yorker.
During his lifetime and beyond, White not only had a large influence in the art of the personal essay, but he also co-authored the famous English language style guide, The Elements of Style, better known as Strunk and White.
Once he and his family decided to leave New York City and live permanently at their tranquil farmhouse in Maine was the author able to find literary inspiration in the simple life. It was there that he eventually wrote the award-winning children’s classics Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and later, the acclaimed Trumpet of the Swan.
In remembrance of E.B. White’s birthday, we look at some fun facts about the writer in his own words.
On how he was inspired to write ‘Charlotte’s Web’
“One day when I was on my way to feed the pig, I began feeling sorry for the pig because, like most pigs, he was doomed to die. This made me sad. So I started thinking of ways to save a pig’s life. I had been watching a big grey spider at her work and was impressed by how clever she was at weaving. Gradually I worked the spider into the story that you know, a story of friendship and salvation on a farm. Three years after I started writing it, it was published.”
On how he knew his wife was The One
“I was helping her pack an overnight bag one afternoon when she said, ‘Put in some tooth twine.’ I knew then that a girl who called dental floss tooth twine was the girl for me.”
On writing for children
“Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. They accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly.”
On parodying Freudian psychology
“The sexual revolution began with Man’s discovery that he was not attractive to Woman, as such. …His masculine appearance not only failed to excite Woman, but in many cases it only served to bore her. The result was that Man found it necessary to develop attractive personal traits to offset his dull appearance. He learned to say funny things. He learned to smoke, and blow smoke rings. He learned to earn money. This would have been a solution to his difficulty, but in the course of making himself attractive to Woman by developing himself mentally, he had inadvertently become so intelligent an animal that he saw how comical the whole situation was.”
On how to approach writing via ‘The Elements of Style’
“Place yourself in the background; do not explain too much; prefer the standard to the offbeat.”
“Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts.”
On Mother Nature
“I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving that he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.”
From the Bio Archives: This article was originally published on July 10, 2015.