Sunday, May 08, 2022

EB White's writing hut in Rooms of Their Own

There are, unsurprisingly, plenty of writing huts and sheds in my new book Rooms of Their Own and I'll be posting a few of them, all illustrated by the talented James Oses, over the coming weeks. We're starting off with writer E.B. White's, and here is an exclusive extract from the book below

Rather than fill his writing hut with momentoes of trips or family members, American writer EB White (1899 – 1985), famous for Charlotte’s Web and his Stuart Little stories, kept his starkly spartan. 

It was not purpose-built as a writing studio, but was originally a boathouse. White remarked that it sheltered him better than his actual home, a late 18th century farmhouse, and said that inside his shed he was a “wilder and healthier man”. He wrote that he shared it with a mouse and a squirrel, and for a while foxes burrowed underneath it to make their own den. 

The wooden shack at his coastal home in Allen Cove, Maine, New England, had a lovely view out to sea but was not fitted out in luxury. White had a chair, bench, desk (which he built himself), blue metal ashtray, a barrel as a waste basket, a cupboard upcycled from a croquet set box, and his black Underwood typewriter which his caretaker would drive down to the shed in the morning and bring back in the evening. “Tight and plainly finished,” was White’s description of it. It was here that he wrote the first draft of Charlotte’s Web, the farm on the property providing stimulation for the story while the initial impetus came directly from watching a spider spin an egg sac on the ceiling of his writing shed. 

The idea of working in a small detached space had an extra appeal for White. He loved the writings of the writer and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, especially Walden, his account of carving out a simple life in nature in his homemade cabin by a lake in Massachusetts. By happy chance, Thoreau’s cabin was almost the same size as White’s boathouse, 10ft by 15ft. Writing inside must have been an additional inspiration for White as well as a pleasure.


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