Remembering William Zinsser (1922 - 2015)

May 20, 2015

William Zinsser, former faculty member in English and master of Branford College, who taught nonfiction writing at Yale in the 1970s and whose influence continues in today’s Yale courses, died peacefully last week at age 92. 

Zinsser’s book On Writing Well, written in the summer of 1974 and drawn from his upper-level nonfiction seminar at Yale, proceeded to sell more than a million copies, some of which add his ongoing wisdom to the teaching of introductory nonfiction courses in the English department. Fred Strebeigh, a student of Zinsser’s who directs English 120, told the Yale Daily News that it is taught in the majority of the course’s sections ( Zinsser’s Writing About Your Life is taught each year by Anne Fadiman in her seminar Writing about Oneself. Fadiman’s appointment at Yale, as Francis Writer in Residence, was endowed by Paul Francis ‘77, a student of Zinsser’s who hoped to support Zinssers for the Yale of today and the future. For several years, Zinsser visited the course each spring; after he was unable to travel to New Haven, Zinsser invited Fadiman’s students to visit him in New York. 

Zinsser’s former students report that his advice still shapes their writing. Christopher Buckley ‘75 imagines Bill Zinsser sitting atop his shoulder, he told the New York Times (, urging brevity.  “It might not be an exaggeration to say that millions of words have been cut,” Mr. Buckley said. “Doubtless, Bill would say, ‘I think you missed a few.’”

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