New Biography Celebrates E.B. White, Who Really Was 'Some Writer!'
Melissa Sweet/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
"Some pig!" Charlotte the barn spider famously spun in praise of her friend Wilbur in E.B. White's classic, Charlotte's Web. Now, author Melissa Sweet has exclaimed: Some Writer! -- that's the name of her new, illustrated biography of E.B. White. The kid-friendly collage includes letters, journal entries, family photos, illustrations, manuscripts and more.
Sweet talks with NPR's Kelly McEvers about White's creative process — and her own.
On why the typewriter is the thematic design for the book
When I was researching E.B. White, the manual typewriter came up all the time. He used it as a child, all through his life. ... If there was one object that I thought represented E.B. White, it was the manual typewriter. So as a collage artist I wanted to use the pieces of a typewriter — the keys, the font and — in fact I typed up all of his quotes on a manual typewriter.
On what she learned about White's creative process
I was curious from the start about how he wrote his children's books. And each one surprised me; that Stuart Little came to him in a dream, one he had on a train. He woke up and wrote it all down. That was the beginning of Stuart Little. ...
The beginning of Charlotte's Web was because he had a sick pig that died and E.B. White wanted redemption. He wanted to find a way to save the pig's life and not long after he saw a spider spin an egg sack. Those two divergent experiences became Charlotte's Web.
On her own process and how she distilled White's story into an illustrated biography
The trick was that there was so much information, so the fun is that we find ways to make it consistent throughout. So, all the archival pieces are on — for instance — a light green paper.
Hopefully the reader goes along and doesn't notice the design so much, but just that the book flows. The design of it makes it like a jigsaw puzzle and, to be honest, I think it's the most fun part.
Once you know what you want to say and you have all this material fitting it together, finding the right pieces is really fun. It's akin to making one collage. It's the same — you're pushing pieces around until you hit on, you don't want to touch it — you've nailed it.