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On living well:
William Zinsser dies at 92

William Zinsser—longtime Yale writing teacher, author of the classic guide On Writing Well, master of Branford College, and former editor of this magazine—died today at age 92, the New York Times reports.

“First, use plain English,” Zinsser advised the Yalies he taught from 1971-79. In a 2009 article for the Yale Alumni Magazine, he recalled how his first crop of students, thanks to “the permissive Sixties,” had arrived at Yale “deprived of the basic tools for writing expository prose.” They were hungry for his hands-on tutelage on how to “write clearly and warmly about the world they lived in.”

From Christopher Buckley ’75 and Jane Mayer ’77 to Lawrie Mifflin ’73 and John Tierney ’75, Zinsser’s students themselves went on to influence young writers. And the writing teacher kept on writing. In 2012, he won a National Magazine Award for Digital Media—for a blog that he submitted to his editors by mail on a CD, because he refused to use e-mail.


The Yale Alumni Magazine is published by Yale Alumni Publications Inc., an alumni-based nonprofit that is not run by Yale University. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the university administration.

Filed under William Zinsser


  • Alexandra Dixon
    Alexandra Dixon, 11:04pm May 12 2015 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    I still have my copy of his book "On Writing Well" (2nd edition 1980). I looked up from typing this and there it was on my bookshelf. I'm going to dust it off and reread it in his honor.

    Alexandra Dixon
    SY '78

  • William Kurtz
    William Kurtz, 9:05am May 13 2015 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    I still have mine, too.

    I am not a Yale student but I met Mr. Zinsser in 1986 or 87 when he spoke at a high school writers' symposium I attended in Hartford. He autgraphed copies of his book which had a tremendous influence on my writing. I returned to it often and to this day am averse to 'clutter'.

  • Daisy Karam-Read
    Daisy Karam-Read, 10:27am May 13 2015 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    I have my copy as well and return to it frequently.

    I'm not a Yale student either but had the honor of meeting him in his home in New York last month. Though blind and in frail health, he welcomed my husband and me graciously. Then, on April 22nd he telephoned me with advice regarding a writing problem I had, and I was immediately able to return to my project. Aside from his pristine intellect, he was a man of great compassion.

  • Terry Wight
    Terry Wight, 10:24pm May 16 2015 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    I never knew William, but went to school with his son, John and his daughter, Amy.
    I have a copy of his book I got from my mother, who was friends with Caroline. Sad to know that he is gone, but glad that he lived to contribute so much to the world. Great man.

  • Barry Abramson
    Barry Abramson, 5:44pm May 18 2015 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    He was the Master of Branford College at Yale, which was my residential college, during my four years as an undergraduate. I fondly remember the Master's Teas that he hosted for students. He always had a warm smile for you whenever you passed him in the Branford courtyard. Barry Abramson, Class of 1977.

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