Author Spotlight: E.B. White

By Audrey W. | Arcadia Staff
Most readers know E.B. White as the author of the beloved childhood classic Charlotte’s Web. However, before he published this story that touched millions, he was launching a successful career as a writer. He co-authored The Elements of Style, wrote The Trumpet and the Swan, published a collection of essays, wrote for The New Yorker, and more. Complex and creative, White helped transform the literary landscape of the late-1900s. Here, we’re spotlighting how the writer’s upbringing and career shaped him into the man remembered today. 

Building a Career as a Writer

 Born in Mount Vernon, New York, White was taught to admire and appreciate the natural world from a young age by his older brother. He graduated from Cornell University in 1921 with a Bachelor of Arts and earned his nickname “Andy,” a name people would use to refer to him throughout his entire life. While studying at the university, White was involved with The Cornell Daily Sun, Aleph Samach, Quill and Dagger, and Phi Gamma Delta, all prestigious groups or fraternities on campus. He continued working in the publishing space post-graduation, working various jobs at the United Press, American Legion News Service, and The Seattle Times. Following the founding of The New Yorker in 1925, he became a staff writer for the magazine.
 
During these years, White began drafting his first children’s book, Stuart Little, which published in 1945. In 1952, White published Charlotte’s Web, a story built from White’s love of animals, farms, seasons, and weather. The latter was initially met with mixed reactions from critics, but went on to win the Newbery Medal from the American Library Association. The book was optioned for a film in 1973, but White fought hard against the proposed alterations to his original text. When the studio wanted to change the ending of the book to make it happier, White and his sternly opposed. The studio finally agreed to White’s wishes, but the writer still reportedly hated the film. 

E.B. White and his wife, Katherine.

White’s Personal Life

While at The New Yorker, White met the magazine’s editor Katharine Sergeant Angell. A traditionally shy man, White famously remarked on her beauty. The two married in 1929, and moved to a farmhouse in Maine where White would live out the rest of his life. 
 
Throughout his life, White struggle with intense anxiety. He would often describe himself as “frightened but not unhappy… I lacked for nothing except confidence.” To accompany his anxiety, White was a hypochondriac. White’s stepson, Roger Angell, speculated in a piece written for The New Yorker that White’s condition came from intense nurturing as a child. He was the youngest of six children, so even the slightest cough would evoke perhaps more parental attention than required. 
 
In the last years of his life, White suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. He quickly forgot the stories he’d written. When his son would read the books to him, White would remark how some passages were poorly written, while commenting that he liked others. His son often had to remind him who wrote the words, but even then, White had no recollection. White finally succumbed to Alzheimer’s in October of 1985 in his farmhouse in Maine. He was buried in the Brookline Cemetery beside his wife. 
 
The hearts of young readers today are still captured by White’s stories. Readers young and old can still admire his works as ones of heartfelt brilliance. Despite receiving initial criticism, and fighting severe anxiety and hypochondria, White prevailed to become one of the most renowned children’s authors in history. In reading White, we garner a sense of the natural world around us that White so dearly loved. His work will be remembered for generations to come. 
 
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