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E.B. (Elwyn Brooks) White

E. B. White wrote a monthly column for Harper’s Magazine called One Man’s Meat. It was about life among barnyard animals on his farm in coastal Maine, and ran from 1938 to 1943, when he retired it due to his “sketchy health.” In 1944 he saw a doctor about “mice in the subconscious,” and the following year he released his first children’s book, Stuart Little, about a mouse. “It must be a lot of fun to write for children,” he had posited in one of his earliest One Man’s Meats, and after the success of Stuart Little he cemented his place in the children’s literature canon with another barnyard tale, Charlotte’s Web (1952), about a spider who saves a pig from slaughter. Eighteen years later he published The Trumpet of the Swan, about a swan, born without a voice, who learns to play the trumpet. “Doctors weren't much help,” White wrote, “but I found that old phonograph records are miraculous.”

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

Among his other works are the poetry collection The Lady is Cold (1929); a comic collaboration with James Thurber called 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.”

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April 1943