On this date in American literary history – July 11, 1899, author E.B. White, was born in Mount Vernon, New York. White, a longtime contributor to The New Yorker magazine who was known for his graceful, witty prose, also updated and expanded The Elements of Style, an English usage guide that remains a standard text for many high school and college students. Elwyn Brooks White was the son of a piano manufacturer and the youngest of six children. He attended Cornell University, where he edited the school newspaper. After graduating in 1921, he worked as a newspaper reporter and a production assistant and copywriter for an advertising agency. In 1927, he joined the staff of The New Yorker, which had been founded two years earlier. White, along with his friend and fellow writer James Thurber, is credited with playing a central role in shaping the magazine’s tone and direction. For over 50 years, White contributed essays, poems and other pieces to the publication.
In the 1930s, White and his wife, Katherine Sergeant Angell, a writer and editor whom he met at The New Yorker, moved to a farm in Maine. In 1945, he published his first children’s novel, Stuart Little, about a mouse born into a human family. The book was followed in 1952 by Charlotte’s Web, about a pig on a farm who is saved from being slaughtered with the help of a spider named Charlotte. The story was inspired by life on White’s own farm. His third children’s book, The Trumpet of the Swan, about a swan born without a voice, was published in 1970. All three works were critical and commercial successes, selling millions of copies. In 1959, White reworked The Elements of Style, a handbook that was irst published privately in 1918 by his former Cornell professor William Strunk. White received numerous awards during his career, including an honorary Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for his body of work. He died at age 86 on October 1, 1985, at his home in North Brooklin, Maine, after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.