William Whitworth, Revered Writer and Editor, Is Dead at 87

William Whitworth, Revered Writer and Editor, Is Dead at 87

William Whitworth, who wrote revealing profiles in The New Yorker giving voice to his idiomatic topics and polished the prose of a few of the nation’s celebrated writers as its affiliate editor earlier than transplanting that journal’s painstaking requirements to The Atlantic, the place he was editor in chief for 20 years, died on Friday in Conway, Ark., close to Little Rock. He was 87.

His daughter, Katherine Whitworth Stewart, introduced the demise. She stated he was being handled after a number of falls and operations in a hospital.

As a younger school graduate, Mr. Whitworth forsook a promising profession as a jazz trumpeter to do a unique type of improvisation as a journalist.

He coated breaking information for The Arkansas Gazette and later for The New York Herald Tribune, the place his colleagues finally included a few of the most exhilarating voices in American journalism, amongst them Dick Schaap, Jimmy Breslin and Tom Wolfe.

In 1966, William Shawn, The New Yorker’s decorous however dictatorial editor, wooed Mr. Whitworth to the commemorated weekly. He took the job though he had already accepted one at The New York Times.

At The New Yorker, he injected wit into pensive “Talk of the Town” vignettes. He additionally profiled the well-known and the not so well-known, together with the jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Mingus (accompanied by images from his former Herald Tribune colleague Jill Krementz) and the international coverage adviser Eugene V. Rostow. He expanded his profile of Mr. Rostow right into a 1970 ebook, “Naïve Questions About War and Peace.”

Mr. Whitworth provided each particular person he profiled ample alternative to be quoted, offering every with equally ample petards on which to hoist himself.

In 1966, with attribute detachment, he wrote about Bishop Homer A. Tomlinson, an amiable Queens man who had run a small promoting company and now, presiding over a Church of God flock, had proclaimed himself King of the World. Bishop Tomlinson claimed thousands and thousands of congregants — together with all Pentecostals. “He thinks they’re his,” Mr. Whitworth wrote, “whether or not they realize it or not.”

Of Joe Franklin, the sturdy tv and radio host, Mr. Whitworth wrote in 1971 that his workplace, “if it had been an individual, it will be a bum” — however that “on the air, Joe is extra cheerful and constructive than Norman Vincent Peale and Lawrence Welk mixed.”

From 1973 via 1980 at The New Yorker, after which on the venerable Atlantic Monthly, the place he was editor till retiring in 1999, and later when he labored on books, Mr. Whitworth was most valued as a nonfiction editor.

Apart from the writers he shepherded, prodded and guarded, his position was largely unheralded exterior the publishing trade. To colleagues who typically questioned why he deserted reporting, he recommended that he couldn’t lick ‘em, so he joined then: He had merely turn out to be fed up with editors, newspaper editors particularly, mangling his prose which might nonetheless be revealed beneath his byline.

“You need to fail by yourself phrases, not in someone else’s voice that sounds such as you,” he stated on the Oxford American Summit for Ambitious Writers in 2011.

Mr. Whitworth edited implacable perfectionists just like the movie critic Pauline Kael (who practically got here to blows with Mr. Shawn) and Robert A. Caro (who was finally so happy with the ultimate excerpts from “The Power Broker,” his biography of Robert Moses, revealed in The New Yorker — after Mr. Whitworth interceded with Mr. Shawn — that when The Atlantic revealed a condensation of the primary quantity of his Lyndon B. Johnson biography, he requested Mr. Whitworth to edit it).

How did he win over recalcitrant writers?

“As lengthy as you had been protecting them within the sport and never doing issues behind their again, slowly explaining why this is able to be a assist to them, which it will, it was defending them not us, and so they got here round,” he stated on the Oxford American Summit.

For Mr. Whitworth, stated the essayist Anne Fadiman, who labored with him at The American Scholar after he left The Atlantic, “enhancing was a dialog and likewise a type of educating.”

Sometimes Mr. Whitworth provided smart counsel that went past enhancing.

After Garrison Keillor wrote an article for The New Yorker concerning the Grand Ole Opry, “he pushed me to do a Saturday evening selection present myself, patterned on the Opry, which led to ‘A Prairie Home Companion,’ which offered me with employment for years to return,” Mr. Keillor stated by electronic mail. “Unusual. Like a sportswriter turning into a serious league pitcher, or an obit author opening a mortuary. I’ve been grateful ever since.”

The New Yorker author Hendrik Hertzberg wrote on his weblog in 2011 that however Mr. Whitworth’s capability for self-deprecation, he and Mr. Shawn had lots in frequent, “together with a mild method, an acute understanding of writerly neuroses and a deep love of jazz.”

In 1980, Mr. Whitworth was thought-about the most definitely candidate to succeed Mr. Shawn, who was stubbornly unwilling to be succeeded. Rather than be complicit in what he described to a pal as “parricide” in a plot to oust Mr. Shawn, he accepted the editorship of The Atlantic from its new proprietor, Mortimer Zuckerman. He had no regrets.

“I did recover from The New Yorker, way back,” he wrote in a letter to Corby Kummer, a former senior editor and meals columnist at The Atlantic — which, he stated, “fulfilled all my expectations and hopes.”

“I couldn’t have been as glad and proud in another job,” he added.

Under Mr. Whitworth’s editorship, The Atlantic received 9 National Magazine Awards, together with the 1993 quotation for normal excellence.

He additionally labored for months enhancing the copy for Renée C. Fox’s “In the Field: A Sociologist’s Journey” (2011) in a snail-mail alternate that went on for months with out them ever assembly head to head.

Mr. Whitworth’s recommendations, Professor Fox recalled in Commentary in 2011, “had been normally written in his characteristically pithy fashion, at all times courteous, gentlemanly and modest in tone, generally self-deprecating, and sometimes dryly witty.”

“The editor,” she continued, “taught the writer about mental, grammatical, aesthetic, historic and ethical parts of writing and enhancing that had been imperceptible, or unknown, to her earlier than.”

William Alvin Whitworth was born on Feb. 13, 1937, in Hot Springs, Ark. His mom, Lois (McNabb) Whitworth, was a china and silver purchaser at Cave’s Jewelers (the place she typically assisted Bill Clinton in shopping for presents for Hillary). His father, William C. Whitworth, was an promoting govt.

He attended Central High School whereas working half time as a replica boy within the promoting division of The Arkansas Democrat. After commencement, he majored in English and minored in philosophy on the University of Oklahoma, however he dropped out earlier than his senior 12 months to play trumpet with a six-piece jazz band.

He married Carolyn Hubbard; she died in 2005. In addition to their daughter, he’s survived by a half brother, F. Brooks Whitworth. A son, Matthew, died in 2022. Mr. Whitworth had lived in Conway since retiring from The Atlantic.

The literary agent Lynn Nesbit remembered Mr. Whitworth as a “stunningly sensible and discerning editor” whose “personal ego by no means received in the way in which of his editorial brilliance.” Charles McGrath, one other former New Yorker editor who later edited The New York Times Book Review, stated that Mr. Whitworth, in contrast to Mr. Shawn, “was extra beloved than feared.”

But he was no pushover. While he typically quoted Mr. Shawn as saying that “falling wanting perfection is simply an countless course of,” he roughly replicated what he referred to as The New Yorker’s “neurotic system” of meticulous enhancing at The Atlantic.

“He taught me that the worst method for an editor is to place your paws throughout a bit since you knew the way to manage and write it higher,” stated Mr. Kummer, who’s now govt director of Food & Society on the Aspen Institute.

“The author’s identify went on the piece, not yours,” he continued, “and irrespective of how fierce the arguments over phrasing, punctuation, paragraph order or phrase selection, the author needed to be proud of a bit or it shouldn’t run.”

When he assigned Mr. Kummer to edit an article by George F. Kennan, the distinguished diplomat and historian, Mr. Whitworth cautioned Mr. Kummer in no unsure phrases: “However a lot work you suppose it wants, keep in mind: He is a big.”

But when Mr. Kennan later complained that Mr. Kummer “put me via as a lot bother as The New Yorker,” Mr. Whitworth replied, “That’s simply what I pay him to do.”



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