Tuesday, July 11, 2006


We just finished reading Charlotte's Web as a family last night, and this morning the Writer's Almanac daily e-mail informs me that it is E.B. White's birthday:

It's the birthday of E.B. (Elwyn Brooks) White, born in Mount Vernon, New York (1899). In addition to writing children's books, he was also a great essayist, and he wrote many of his essays about taking care of a small farm. He especially liked writing about the personalities and goings-on of his farm animals. In his essay, "The Geese," he wrote, "I have had geese ... for a number of years and they have been my friends. 'Companions' would be a better word; geese are friends with no one, they badmouth everybody and everything. But they are companionable once you get use to their ingratitude and their false accusations."

White was a young advertising copywriter in 1925, when he happened to purchase the first issue of The New Yorker magazine at a newsstand in Grand Central Station. He bought it and eventually joined the staff in 1926.

In 1929, he took a vacation to Ontario, working at a summer camp that he had gone to as a kid, and he seriously considered quitting his job at The New Yorker to become a camp director. He had just turned thirty, and he was disappointed that he hadn't written anything other than a lot of humorous magazine pieces. He wrote in a letter to Katherine Angell that he considered himself a failure as a writer, a mere hack, and he wasn't sure what the point was in continuing. She wrote back to say that there was no question in her mind that he was a great writer, even if he hadn't produced a masterpiece yet. When White returned to New York, he married her.

They eventually moved to a farmhouse in Maine, where White kept animals. He was particularly fond of his pigs and felt guilty about turning them into ham and bacon. One day, while he was walking through his orchard, carrying a pail of slop to his pig, he got an idea for a story about how a pig's life could be saved. He said, "I had been watching a large spider in the backhouse, and what with one thing and another, the idea came to me."

That was Charlotte's Web, which came out in 1952. It's the story of Wilbur, a runt pig saved from slaughter when a spider named Charlotte begins to weave words about him into a web above his pen. After saving his life, she lays her eggs and dies. White's publishers tried to get him to change the unhappy ending, but he refused.

Charlotte's Web became the masterpiece E.B. White had been trying to write his whole life.

E. B. White wrote, "All I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world."


Blogger Julie Carter said...

How strange. I just had a post about EB White on a blog. He's one of my favorite writers.

1:57 PM, July 11, 2006  
Blogger J.B. Rowell said...

That is strange! It was VERY strange just finishing the book the night before his birthday.

I love that book so much I read it to my first before she was born.

3:07 PM, July 11, 2006  
Blogger Pat Paulk said...

History I didn't know, love it!!

5:44 PM, July 12, 2006  
Blogger J.B. Rowell said...

This is a learnin' blog! :)

Thanks Pat

4:59 PM, July 14, 2006  

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