William Knowlton Zinsser, 1922 - 2015

portrait of William Zinsser
Oil on canvas by Thomas S. Buechner (2006)

Born: 7 October 1922, New York City
Died: 12 May 2015, Manhattan, New York

William Knowlton Zinsser the fourth child and first son of William Zinsser who ran a shellac business. He fell in love with writing as editor of the Deerfield Academy (Deerfield, Massachusetts) student paper, then went to Princeton where his plans were interrupted by service in the US Army in North Africa and Italy. Returning to Princeton he convinced the school to give him credit studying Italy's art while in the service. To his father's disappointment, he turned down the opportunity to be the fourth William Zinsser in charge of the company his great grandfather started and went to work for The Herald Tribune, starting as a feature writer and serving as drama editor, film critic, and editorial writer before the paper closed in 1966. He freelanced for eleven years, after four years the loneliness led him to take a teaching job at Yale University. His first class ("Nonfiction Workshop") had room for twenty students, 170 signed up. In the summer of 1974 he drafted a slim volume called On Writing Well — summarizing what he taught at Yale. Soon after publication in 1976 he was able to give up freelance work, the book has sold over 1.5 million copies. Many writers read the book (along with Will Strunk and E. B. White's The Elements of Style) every year, I don't go that far but I do have both the third (1986) and fourth (1990) editions and, from quotes I've found from the 30th anniversary edition (2007) it seems he added significant new material. He left Yale to head the Book-of-the-Month Club for eight years, all the while writing: nineteen books including memoirs, political novels, books about religion and baseball, songwriters and American treasures such as Mt Rushmore and Yellowstone. In 2012 announced that he would have to stop writing due to glaucoma but continued to consult on writing projects. Zinsser died at his Manhattan home, no cause of death was released.

Biography from Wikipedia and The New York Times obituary

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