Strunk and White Set to Art and Music


“The Elements of Style Illustrated” (William Strunk Jr., E.B. White)

The other day I was browsing through my local Borders store and I came across a handsome small red bound book that had on the cover the title The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White. This little volume was a far cry from the cheesy tan paperback that sits on my office shelf, and which I refer to with some frequency. “Strunk and White” is the gold standard of American English language usage and has influenced countless writers over the decades. So what was this red book, newly presented? Upon closer inspection, in the lower right corner of the cover is the word “illustrated.” It turns out that Maira Kalman, best known for illustrating children’s books, came across an old copy of Strunk and White and was taken with the sly examples that elucidate the rules of usage. So she decided to use these examples as the basis for an illustrated version of The Elements of Style.

It turns out that I am not the only one intrigued by this new version of a classic. NPR featured a segment on today’s Morning Edition about Kalman’s illustrated edition. The feature described several of the illustrations, but went on to say that Maira Kalman decided that pictures were not enough, but she decided that there should be an opera based on The Elements of Style, so she commissioned composer Nico Muhly to write operatic songs based on the text. The operatic version had its first performance in the main reading room of the New York Public Library. I think E.B. White is smiling somewhere in the Great Reading Room of the Beyond.

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