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The Seattle Times fires E. B. White on June 19, 1923.

HistoryLink.org Essay 3467 : Printer-Friendly Format

On June 19, 1923, The Seattle Times fires the future preeminent (emphasis on future) American essayist E. B. White (1899-1985). White is 24 years old, living the life, in his words (written years later), "of exalted footlessness." As a newspaper reporter, he noted, he was "almost useless." Looking back into his journals in which he made a record (?) of his time in Seattle, White reflects: "As a diarist, I was a master of suspense, leaving to the reader's imagination everything pertinent to the action of my play. I operated, generally, on too high a level for routine reporting, and had not at that time discovered the eloquence of facts. I can see why the Times fired me. A youth who persisted in rising above facts must have been a headache to a city editor."

White got the job on the Times in September 1922 and he was fired in June 1923. Then he worked for a short stint as a substitute on the Post-Intelligencer. Then he hung around. A month after being fired, he boarded the S. S. Buford for Alaska. His essay "The Years of Wander" recounts that eventful trip. The most exciting events on the Buford occurred while he served as messboy to the firemen. In one exciting event, he dumped slops overboard onto a much bulkier person's head and had to run for his life.

A Student of Girls

The month White hung in Seattle before entering his new career as slop-boy on the Buford was extremely uneventful. He writes:

"I walked in the paths of righteousness, studying girls. In particular, I studied a waitress in a restaurant called the Chantecler. ... I swam alone at night in the canal that connects Lake Union and Lake Washington. I seldom went to bed before two or three o'clock in the morning, on the theory that if anything of interest were to happen to a young man it would almost certainly happen late at night. Daytimes I hung around my room in Mrs. Donohue's boarding house ...."

A Stinging Communication

He read a sermon in Monday's paper by the Reverend Mark A. Matthews attacking non-churchgoers, "of whom I was one." He in turn wrote a poem attacking the Reverend Matthews and sent it to him anonymously. The following Sunday, he attended the First Presbyterian to "make a routine check on my man." He recorded in his journal that the "smugness of Reverend Matthews' doctrine made the air stifling." Probably what really made the air stifling, according to the older E. B. White, "was that in his sermon the minister made no mention of having received my stinging communication."

E. B. White went on from these erratic beginnings to become a renowned writer for The New Yorker and author of many books including the children's books Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little, and the quintessential how-to-write book Elements of Style (with William Strunk Jr.). His urbane, witty, humorous essays continue to be read widely 15 years after his death in 1985 from Alzheimer's.

Sources:
E. B. White, "The Years of Wander," in Essays of E. B. White (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1977), 169-196; John Hinterberger, "E. B.'s Baptism," The Seattle Times, June 15, 1983, p. D-1.


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E. B. White ((1899-1985)
Courtesy Bettman Archive


 
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