E.B. (Elwyn Brooks) White

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From October 1938 to March 1943, E. B. White contributed a column to Harper’s Magazine called One Man’s Meat, which he wrote from his farm in North Brooklin, on the coast of Maine. “I have been making my living by describing my antics with sheep and poultry,” he wrote in 1941, “to an audience which appears to be half envious, half contemptuous.” Many of the essays, which also touched upon World War II, nationalism, and a single world government, were published as a volume in 1942. One Man’s Meat went on to win the Limited Editions Club’s Gold Medal, awarded every three years to the book considered most likely to attain the stature of a classic, and was briefly banned by the Army.

Elwyn Brooks White was born in 1899, the prosperous second year of William McKinley’s presidency, in Mount Vernon, New York. “Pop was a golden man living in a golden age, doing it well,” he wrote to his brother Stanley in 1954, “and barely realizing that he was dumping six kids into an age of terror and destruction.”

In one of his earliest columns for Harper’s Magazine, White posited: “It must be a lot of fun to write for children—reasonably easy work, perhaps even important work.” His first children’s book, Stuart Little, was published in 1945, a year after he sought a doctor’s aid for having “mice in the subconscious”; Charlotte’s Web (1952) and The Trumpet of the Swan (1973) cemented his place in the canon. Soon after he ceased to write his monthly column for Harper’s Magazine, he complained of “sketchy health”: “I never realized nerves were so odd, but they are,” he wrote. “They are the oddest part of the body, no exceptions.”

Among his other works are the poetry collection The Lady is Cold (1929); a comic collaboration with James Thurber, Is Sex Necessary? Or, Why You Feel The Way You Do (1929); Here Is New York (1949), which The New Yorker deemed “the wittiest essay, and one of the most perceptive, ever done on the city”; and a revision of William Strunk, Jr.’s popular English-language style guide, The Elements of Style (1959). White received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, and in 1978 he won a Pulitzer Prize for “his letters, essays and the full body [of] his work.”

Article — From the October 1999 issue

At Walden Pond

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Readings — From the December 1985 issue

One man’s meat

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Wraparound — From the July 1975 issue

Wraparound

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Article — From the September 1960 issue

Saving radiance?

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