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Monday, August 31, 2009

William Shawn

It's the birthday of William Shawn, born William Chon in Chicago (1907), who worked at The New Yorker for 54 years, and was the editor for 35. He was small, with big ears, and he spoke in a high, mild voice, always considerate. When he sat at his desk his feet barely touched the ground. He was extremely shy and he never discussed his personal life. He didn't give interviews or pose in photographs, and even his coworkers knew almost nothing about him outside of the office. They always called him "Mr. Shawn."

But his writers loved him, and he published many of the preeminent writers of the day, including E.B. White, John McPhee, Elizabeth Bishop, John Updike, Jamaica Kincaid, and J.D. Salinger. He personally edited Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, and published them as long articles in the magazine before they came out as books.

He said: "Amid chaos of images, we value coherence. We believe in the printed word. And we believe in clarity. And we believe in immaculate syntax. And in the beauty of the English language."

©2009 The Writer's Almanac


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