For 60 years, “Charlotte’s Web” has been a beloved children’s classic taught in classrooms and read before bedtime. E.B. White, who also authored the timeless tales “Stuart Little” and “The Trumpet of the Swan,” brought us the story of how a spider named Charlotte (with the help of a few animal friends) saved the life of a pig named Wilbur. Now, a special edition has been published with a new foreword from Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo. So what’s so interesting about the man who spun the web? We’ve dug up seven facts that make White terrific, radiant and humble.
The iconic manual of literary rules, “The Elements of Style”–originally penned by White’s college professor, William Strunk Jr. in 1918, only for Strunk’s student to update it 41 years later—has sold over 10 million copies since 1959. The 50th anniversary edition, published in 2009, stayed true to the vision of the authors and was not updated with any modern slang or vocabulary.
The initials E.B. stand for Elwyn Brooks, but White’s college pals used a different nickname for the writer. In Cornell University tradition, students who shared a last name with the school’s co-founder Andrew Dickson White were called “Andy.”
In a letter featured on the HarperCollins website, White shares that he was inspired to write “Charlotte’s Web” while working on his farm. “One day when I was on my way to feed the pig, I began feeling sorry for the pig because, like most pigs, he was doomed to die. This made me sad. So I started thinking of ways to save a pig’s life. I had been watching a big grey spider at her work and was impressed by how clever she was at weaving. Gradually I worked the spider into the story that you know, a story of friendship and salvation on a farm. Three years after I started writing it, it was published.”
Love at First Write
In 1929, White married Katharine Sergeant Angell. The couple met while White was working at The New Yorker, where Angell was the fiction editor. In 1933, the two moved to a farmhouse in Maine. “I soon realized that I had made no mistake in my choice of a wife. I was helping her pack an overnight bag one afternoon when she said, ‘Put in some tooth twine.’ I knew then that a girl who called dental floss tooth twine was the girl for me,” said White, according to The New York Times. The couple stayed together until Angell’s death in 1977.
On the Waterfront
Like his character Stuart Little, White loved to sail. He could often be found on his sailboat, which he christened “Martha” after his granddaughter, according to the New York Times.
White became fast friends with James Thurber, a fellow contributor at The New Yorker and one of the great humorists of the 20th century. Their collaboration, “Is Sex Necessary? Or Why You Feel the Way You Do,” was the first published work of prose for either writer. The book, which is still in print over 80 years after it was first published, is a hilarious spoof on relationships and psychology.
Kudos for Kids
White published books for both children and adults, but he never kept a particular audience in mind as he wrote. However, he held children in high regard, telling the Paris Review: “Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time. You have to write up, not down. Children are demanding. They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth. They accept, almost without question, anything you present them with, as long as it is presented honestly, fearlessly, and clearly.”