Elwyn Brooks White

“We are having splendid weather and I am building a stone wall. I understand that all literary people, at one time or another, build a stone wall. It’s because it’s easier than writing.”

- E.B. White

Elwyn Brooks White, aka E.B. White, is my latest literary hero. Here’s why:

Not only is he famous for editing “The Strunk,” but he was one of the first and most lasting of the New Yorker magazine’s roster of writers, contributing his essays and unsigned “Notes and Comment” pieces for sixty years.

Not only that, but he was a great wit (see quotation above). I love a great wit. Right now I’m chuckling my way through the 600-plus page volume, Letters of E.B. White, driving The Business Guy a little crazy with my outbursts of “Listen to this!” followed by impromptu readings regardless of what he’s in the middle of doing.

(Think of it: 600-plus pages of letters, and they’re all E.B’s! How many of us can say we’ve written five thank-you letters in as many years? And think of all the interruptions the Business Guy has to look forward to!)

All of the above I had been vaguely aware of for some time. But when I put it together that Elwyn Brooks White is the same E.B. White who authored three of my all-time favourite children’s books, the earth shifted on its axis with a small bump. Did you feel it? If not, the biggest not-only of them all will surely bring it on. Brace yourselves.

Not only all of the above, but…

E.B. White is the author of Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan

Bump.

I’m still reeling.

In a letter to children’s editor Anne Carroll Moore, who in 1939 was most eager to get her mitts on the Stuart Little manuscript, E.B. writes:

“My fears about writing for children are great – one can so easily slip into a cheap sort of whimsy or cuteness. I don’t trust myself in this treacherous field unless I am running a degree of fever.”

I’m a bit of a children’s writer myself, and I love it that E.B. has such high regard for his young readers that he would resist dashing something off for them. Another of his letters to do with Stuart Little is worth reproducing in its entirety:

“I will do my best to make some progress with Stuart Little. I can’t make any promises, as the effect on me of forced labour is sometimes rather dreadful. My wife is nagging me about Stuart, too; in fact today I told her she would have to stop – that she was driving me too hard. I think it made quite an impression on her.

“All I can truthfully say about Stuart is that I will keep fall publication in mind as a goal, but that everything depends on whether the finished product turns out pleasing to mine eye. I would rather wait a year than publish a bad children’s book, as I have too much respect for children.

“One of the problems, of course, would be to find a satisfactory illustrator… It would have to be somebody who likes mice and men, and who knows a little of their hopes, joys, disappointments, etc.

“I will keep you informed as to the progress, if any, of the book. Right this minute I am wet nurse to 250 small red chicks, and God help my publisher and my readers – all ten of them… Yrs.”

Spoken like a true hero.

Link: E.B. White

 

Categories: General.