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E.B. White Interview

31 January 2013

INTERVIEWER

At what age did you know you were going to follow a literary profession? Was there a particular incident, or moment?

WHITE

I never knew for sure that I would follow a literary profession. I was twenty-seven or twenty-eight before anything happened that gave me any assurance that I could make a go of writing. I had done a great deal of writing, but I lacked confidence in my ability to put it to good use. I went abroad one summer and on my return to New York found an accumulation of mail at my apartment. I took the letters, unopened, and went to a Childs restaurant on Fourteenth Street, where I ordered dinner and began opening my mail. From one envelope, two or three checks dropped out, from The New Yorker. I suppose they totaled a little under a hundred dollars, but it looked like a fortune to me. I can still remember the feeling that “this was it”—I was a pro at last. It was a good feeling and I enjoyed the meal.

Read it all The Paris Review

guest posted by Barbara Morgenroth

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2 Comments to “E.B. White Interview”

  1. Some writers for children deliberately avoid using words they think a child doesn’t know. This emasculates the prose and, I suspect, bores the reader. Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net. They love words that give them a hard time, provided they are in a context that absorbs their attention. I’m lucky again: my own vocabulary is small, compared to most writers, and I tend to use the short words. So it’s no problem for me to write for children. We have a lot in common.

    This! My novel Troll-magic is categorized as YA simply because its protagonist is 17. And at least one teacher has wondered if I should adjust the vocabulary used. Her own vocabulary is large, but still I managed to use a few words she didn’t know. After expressing her worry, she acknowledged that looking them up in the dictionary might be just fine.

    Hope so! I simply wrote what called me with the words that expressed what I meant. And the idea of culling any words that are “difficult”…well, no!

  2. Oh! Another fabulous quote!

    I do feel a responsibility to society because of going into print: a writer has the duty to be good, not lousy; true, not false; lively, not dull; accurate, not full of error. He should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.

    I promise I’ll stop after this! (Could not resist. And, go read the whole interview, if you haven’t! Very interesting and engaging.)

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