William Zinsser

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.

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

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.

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.”

Zinsser encouraged memoir writers to believe in their own uniqueness and defined success as “doing what you want to do and doing it well”.

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.

Works by William Zinsser: