Today in Literary History – July 11, 1899 – E.B. White, author of “Charlotte’s Web,” and the “White” of “Strunk and White,” is born.

The writer E.B. White was born in Mount Vernon, New York on July 11, 1899.

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He spent nearly 50 years writing essays, editorials, and short stories for the New Yorker magazine.

In 1957 he revised a guide to clear writing that had been self-published in 1918 by his former professor at Cornell University, William Strunk, Jr.

The resulting book, The Elements of Style, became colloquially known simply as “Strunk and White.” It has sold millions of copies in several editions and was the style bible for generations of university students.

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His third claim to fame is as a beloved author of children’s books. Stuart Little (1945) and Charlotte’s Web (1952) have reached iconic stature. In 2012 the School Library Journal voted Charlotte’s Web as the most popular book for young readers.

Charlotte’s Web has sold more than 45 million copies worldwide and has been translated into 23 languages.

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White was born as Elwyn Brooks White, a name he rarely used. ”I never liked Elwyn. My mother just hung it on me because she’d run out of names. I was her sixth child,” he later said. He was known to family and friends throughout his life by the nickname “Andy.”

After graduating from Cornell, White worked as a reporter for the United Press and the Seattle Times, and as an advertising copywriter.

When the New Yorker was founded in 1925 he began submitting short stories to the magazine. Katherine Angell, the New Yorker’s first fiction editor, was impressed with his work and convinced Harold Ross, the magazine’s founder and editor, to hire White full time.

White, who suffered from anxiety and social phobia found himself at ease with Angell and the two began an affair. Angell left her husband and she and White were married in 1929. They had a long and happy marriage ended only by Katherine White’s death in 1977 at the age of 84.

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White found a real home at the New Yorker, where he shared an office with James Thurber, who became a close friend and collaorator. He found the collegiality exciting. (Still, according to Thurber, White would often slip out of the fire escape window to avoid meeting people.)

“The cast of characters in those days was as shifty as the characters in a floating poker game,” White later wrote. “Every week the magazine teetered on the edge of financial ruin. It was chaos but it was enjoyable.”

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White wrote plainspoken, liberal editorials and essays about homespun Americana, not exactly the usual New Yorker fare. ”I know nothing of music or of painting or of sculpture or of the dance,” he once said. ”I would rather watch the circus or a ball game than ballet.”

White split his time between Manhattan and his farm in Maine, where he died in 1985 at the age of 86 from complications from Alzheimer’s Disease.

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