Brain Pickings

E. B. White’s Only New Yorker Cover, April 23, 1932

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‘I can’t draw or paint, but I was sick in bed…and I had nothing to occupy me, but I had a cover idea.’

E. B. White was a man of many talents — a fierce idealist, a writer of warm and witty love letters, a champion of optimism in the human condition. In April of 1932, he expanded his roster of creative accomplishments by contributing his only cover for the New Yorker, the magazine that would go on to be his literary home for five decades.

In his fantastic 1969 Paris Review interview, the same gem that gave us his timeless insights on the role and responsibility of the writer, White tells George Plimpton the cover’s story:

I’m not an artist and never did any drawings for The New Yorker. I did turn in a cover and it was published. I can’t draw or paint, but I was sick in bed with tonsillitis or something, and I had nothing to occupy me, but I had a cover idea — of a sea horse wearing a nose bag. I borrowed my son’s watercolor set, copied a sea horse from a picture in Webster’s dictionary, and managed to produce a cover that was bought. It wasn’t much of a thing. I even loused up the whole business finally by printing the word ‘oats’ on the nose bag, lest somebody fail to get the point. I suppose the original of that cover would be a collector’s item of a minor sort, since it is my only excursion into the world of art. But I don’t know where it is. I gave it to Jed Harris. What he did with it, knows God.

Various prints of the cover are available from the Conde Nast store, and it can also be found in the altogether fantastic 2000 compendium, Covering the New Yorker: Cutting-Edge Covers from a Literary Institution.

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