Category Archives: white

elements of style

On NPR’s “Morning Edition” (11/2/2005) Lynn Neary reported on the multimedia new life that The Elements of Style by E.B. White and William Strunk Jr. has been going through. The classic manual on writing and usage in American English first published in 1919 has sold millions of copies, and has been the guide for practically all writers from the 1950’s on. The authors advocated a simple and direct way of expressing ideas in a manual full of witty sentences that serve as examples on how to use those rules.
Maira Kalman, illustrator of children’ books and “The New Yorker” found the book at a yard sale and immediately knew she wanted to illustrate it. She saw the visual potential not in the rules but in the examples the authors used to illustrate them. She saw humor, eccentricity and an interesting combination of beauty and truth in their sentences, and felt compelled to draw them. The result is an illustrated, humorous and eccentric manual of style.
After illustrating the book, Kailman decided to create an opera. She commissioned Nico Muhly to create operatic songs with lyrics from The Elements of Style. The music was recently played at the New York Public Library. The songs are beautiful and convey the book’s sense of humor and eccentricity, at the same time they make it uncannily contemporary.
Examples of illustrations and songs are at NPR.