William Whitworth, Revered Author and Editor, Is Useless at 87

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By Calvin S. Nelson

William Whitworth, who wrote revealing profiles in The New Yorker giving voice to his idiomatic topics and polished the prose of a number 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 dying. She stated he was being handled after a number of falls and operations in a hospital.

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

He lined breaking information for The Arkansas Gazette and later for The New York Herald Tribune, the place his colleagues finally included a number 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 Occasions.

At The New Yorker, he injected wit into pensive “Speak of the City” 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 photographs from his former Herald Tribune colleague Jill Krementz) and the overseas coverage adviser Eugene V. Rostow. He expanded his profile of Mr. Rostow right into a 1970 guide, “Naïve Questions About Struggle 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 hundreds of thousands of congregants — together with all Pentecostals. “He thinks they’re his,” Mr. Whitworth wrote, “whether or not they understand 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 could be a bum” — however that “on the air, Joe is extra cheerful and constructive than Norman Vincent Peale and Lawrence Welk mixed.”

From 1973 by 1980 at The New Yorker, after which on the venerable Atlantic Month-to-month, 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.

Other than the writers he shepherded, prodded and guarded, his position was largely unheralded outdoors the publishing business. To colleagues who usually questioned why he deserted reporting, he recommended that he couldn’t lick ‘em, so he joined then: He had merely grow to be fed up with editors, newspaper editors particularly, mangling his prose which might nonetheless be revealed below his byline.

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

Mr. Whitworth edited implacable perfectionists just like the movie critic Pauline Kael (who almost got here to blows with Mr. Shawn) and Robert A. Caro (who was finally so glad with the ultimate excerpts from “The Energy Dealer,” 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?

“So long as you had been preserving them within the sport and never doing issues behind their again, slowly explaining why this may be a assist to them, which it could, 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 in addition a type of instructing.”

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

After Garrison Keillor wrote an article for The New Yorker in regards to the Grand Ole Opry, “he pushed me to do a Saturday evening selection present myself, patterned on the Opry, which led to ‘A Prairie Residence Companion,’ which offered me with employment for years to return,” Mr. Keillor stated by e-mail. “Uncommon. 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 loads in widespread, “together with a delicate 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. Fairly than be complicit in what he described to a good friend 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 pleased and proud in some other job,” he added.

Underneath Mr. Whitworth’s editorship, The Atlantic gained 9 Nationwide Journal Awards, together with the 1993 quotation for normal excellence.

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

Mr. Whitworth’s strategies, Professor Fox recalled in Commentary in 2011, “had been often written in his characteristically pithy fashion, all the time courteous, gentlemanly and modest in tone, generally self-deprecating, and infrequently dryly witty.”

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

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

He attended Central Excessive Faculty 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 College 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. Along with 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 acquired in the best way of his editorial brilliance.” Charles McGrath, one other former New Yorker editor who later edited The New York Occasions E-book Assessment, stated that Mr. Whitworth, not like Mr. Shawn, “was extra beloved than feared.”

However he was no pushover. Whereas he usually quoted Mr. Shawn as saying that “falling wanting perfection is simply an limitless course of,” he kind of replicated what he referred to as The New Yorker’s “neurotic system” of meticulous enhancing at The Atlantic.

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

“The author’s title went on the piece, not yours,” he continued, “and regardless of how fierce the arguments over phrasing, punctuation, paragraph order or phrase alternative, the author needed to be pleased with 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: “Nonetheless a lot work you suppose it wants, bear in mind: He is a big.”

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

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