William Zinsser

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William Zinsser
William Knowlton Zinsser

(1922-10-07)October 7, 1922
DiedMay 12, 2015(2015-05-12) (aged 92)
Alma materBuckley Country Day School
Deerfield Academy
Princeton University
  • Writer
  • editor
  • literary critic
  • teacher
SpouseCarolyn Fraser

William Knowlton Zinsser (October 7, 1922 – May 12, 2015) was an American writer, editor, literary critic, and teacher. He began his career as a journalist for the New York Herald Tribune, where he worked as a feature writer, drama editor, film critic and editorial writer. He was a longtime contributor to leading magazines.

Early life and family[edit]

Zinsser attended Buckley Country Day School, Deerfield Academy and graduated from Princeton University. He married Carolyn Fraser Zinsser, with whom he had two children, including John Zinsser, a painter. The Zinssers lived in New York City and in Niantic, Connecticut.[1] One of his cousins married Konrad Adenauer; another was the spouse of John J. McCloy;[2] Zinsser wrote, "So it happened that the two men who collaborated most closely on the creation of the new Germany were Zinsser relatives."

Zinsser was second cousin of the painter Thomas S. Buechner.[3]

Professional background[edit]

Zinsser taught writing at Yale University, where he was the fifth master of Branford College (1973–1979).[4][citation needed] He served as executive editor of the Book-of-the-Month Club from 1979 to 1987.[citation needed] He retired from teaching at The New School and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism because of advancing glaucoma.[citation needed] [5]

His 18 books include On Writing Well, which is in the 30th edition; Writing to Learn; Writing with a Word Processor; Mitchell & Ruff (originally published as Willie and Dwike); Spring Training; American Places; Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs; Writing About Your Life; and most recently, Writing Places, an autobiography. The American Scholar ran William Zinsser's weekly web posting, "Zinsser on Friday," featuring his short essays on writing, the arts, and popular culture.[6]

In his books, Zinsser emphasizes the word "economy". Author James J. Kilpatrick, in his book The Writer's Art, says that if he were limited to just one book on how to write, it would be William Zinsser's On Writing Well. He adds, "Zinsser's sound theory is that 'writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it."[7][8]

Zinsser encouraged memoir writers to believe in their own uniqueness and defined success as "doing what you want to do and doing it well".[9]

Zinsser interviewed Woody Allen in 1963 for the Saturday Evening Post. After a chance encounter in 1980, Allen cast Zinsser, a Protestant, in a small role as a Catholic priest in his film Stardust Memories.[10]


Zinsser died at the age of 92 in Manhattan on May 12, 2015.[1]


  1. ^ a b Martin, Douglas (May 12, 2015). "William Zinsser, Author of 'On Writing Well,' Dies at 92". The New York Times. Retrieved May 13, 2015.
  2. ^ "A Cousin from Cologne". The American Scholar. March 25, 2011.
  3. ^ Zinsser, William. "Two Men and a Portrait". Smithsonian Magazine.
  4. ^ "Remembering William Zinsser (1922 - 2015) | English". english.yale.edu. Retrieved October 27, 2016.
  5. ^ Barry, Dan (April 28, 2013). "A Writing Coach Becomes a Listener – Dan Barry". The New York Times. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  6. ^ "The Complete Zinsser on Friday – William Zinsser". The American Scholar. February 2, 2012. Retrieved March 1, 2013.
  7. ^ Zinsser, William (2006). On Writing Well. New York: Harper Collins. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-06-089154-1.
  8. ^ Kilpatrick, James Jackson (1984). "chapter 6 "The Tools We Live By"". The Writer's Art. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4494-0561-8.
  9. ^ "William Zinsser - Modeling Success Series - #2 | Embrace Possibility Blog". www.embracepossibility.com. Retrieved February 5, 2017.
  10. ^ Zinsser, William (August 2, 2010). "My Stardust Memories". The American Scholar. Retrieved April 19, 2012.

Further reading[edit]

  • Contemporary Authors Online. The Gale Group, 2006. PEN (Permanent Entry Number): 0000023043

External links[edit]