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Happy birthday, E.B. White!

July 11, 2011 |  1:17 pm

Charlottesweb_ebwhite E.B. White was born on this day in 1899 in Mt. Vernon, N.Y. White, whose full name was Elwyn Brooks White, was the author of the beloved children's books "Charlotte's Web" and "Stuart Little."

White, who was a longtime New Yorker contributor, was a meticulous stylist when it came to writing. He shared authorship of the once-ubiquitous grammar handbook "The Elements of Style," which he expanded from an earlier version written by Prof. William Strunk.

White attended college at Cornell and worked at United Press and the Seattle Times before finding a place at the New Yorker magazine in 1927.

"I think he enjoyed public approval, but he did not have what James Madison called a canine appetite for popularity," said his friend J. Russell Wiggins in White's eulogy in 1985. "He did have the two chief qualities of a writer: He had something to say and he knew how to say it."

White continued to write regularly for the New Yorker even after he and his wife, Katharine, also a contributor to the magazine, moved to a Maine farmhouse in 1938. "Don't say I live exactly in North Brooklin or buses will show up -- a few have already -- loaded with schoolchildren and their teachers looking for 'Stuart Little,' 'Charlotte's Web' and 'The Trumpet of the Swan,' '' he once cautioned.

White was presented with a Presidential Medal of Freedom by John F. Kennedy in 1963, a National Medal for Literature in 1971 and was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize for his body of work in 1978.

While reading some of White's enormous catalog of writing might be the best way to celebrate him on his birthday, you can also raise a glass. He liked to sip a vermouth cassis before lunch, saying, ''It's a French taxi-driver's drink."

White recieved so many inquiries about the spider Charlotte, Wilbur the pig and the other characters in his children's books that his publisher sent a form letter he'd drafted in response. It read in part, "'Are my stories true, you ask? No, they are imaginary tales, containing fantastic characters and events. In real life, a family doesn't have a child who looks like a mouse; in real life, a spider doesn't spin words in her web. In real life, a swan doesn't blow a trumpet. But real life is only one kind of life -- there is also the life of the imagination. And although my stories are imaginary, I like to think that there is some truth in them, too -- truth about the way people and animals feel and think and act.''

-- Carolyn Kellogg