E. B. White on the Responsibility of the Writer

Today, I’m headed to Columbia to take part in a symposium on the future of journalism — a subject that feels at once on some great cusp and under the weight of a myriad conflicting pressures. It prompted me to revisit one of my all-time favorite Paris Review interviews, a 1969 conversation, in which the great George Plimpton and sidekick Frank H. Crowtherinterview E. B. White. White has previously voiced strong opinions on the free press and, of course, the architecture of language, but here he shares some timeless yet strikingly timely insights on the role and the responsibility of the writer:

A writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter. I feel no obligation to deal with politics. 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.

Read the entire article by M. Popova here. 

Elwyn Brooks White (July 11, 1899 – October 1, 1985), usually known as E. B. White, was an American writer. He was a long-time contributor to The New Yorker magazine and a co-author of the widely-used English language style guide, The Elements of Style, which is commonly known as “Strunk & White”. He also wrote famous books for children including Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little.

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