Zinsser By the Subway

William Zinsser, a fourth-generation New Yorker, at a subway station near his former office in mid-Manhattan.

  • Born October 7, 1922, New York City
  • Education: Deerfield Academy, Princeton University
  • Honorary degrees: Rollins College, Wesleyan University. University of Southern Indiana
  • World War II: sergeant, U.S. army, North Africa and Italy, 1943-45
  • Religion: Protestant
  • Roots: Father’s family (Zinssers, Scharmanns) came to New York from Germany in 1849. Mother’s family (Knowltons, Joyces) were from a long line of Maine and Connecticut Yankees
  • Family: Married in 1954 to Caroline Fraser Zinsser, educator and historian.
  • Children: Amy Zinsser, business executive; John Zinsser, artist and teacher. Four grandchildren
  • 1946-1959—New York Herald Tribune: feature writer, drama editor, film critic, editorial writer
  • 1959-1970—free-lance writer of articles and columns for magazines (Saturday Evening Post, Life, Look, New York Times Magazine, Horizon, Sports Illustrated, etc.). Author of seven books on travel, criticism, humor and social comment (Any Old Place With You. Seen Any Good Movies Lately?, The City Dwellers, Weekend Guests, The Haircurl Papers, Pop Goes America, The Lunacy Boom). Entertainment critic, NBC “Sunday” television program, 1963-64

Zinsser By the Subway

William Zinsser at the house in Connecticut where he wrote "On Writing Well" in the summer of 1974.

  • 1970-1979—Yale University: teacher of nonfiction writing and humor writing; master of Branford College; editor, Yale Alumni Magazine. Author, On Writing Well (1976), The Paradise Bit (novel). Columnist, New York Times “Home” section, 1977
  • 1976—Adviser on writing to schools, colleges, corporations, government agencies
  • 1979-1987—Book-of-the-Month Club: executive editor. Author, Writing With a Word Processor
  • 1987—Free-lance writer for magazines (The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The American Scholar, Smithsonian, Town & Country, Travel Holiday, etc.). Author of Writing to Learn; Spring Training; American Places: A Writer’s Pilgrimage to 16 of This Country’s Most Visited and Cherished Sites; Mitchell & Ruff: An American Profile in Jazz; Easy to Remember: The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs; Writing About Your Life: A Journey Into the Past; Writing Places: The Life Journey of a Writer and Teacher. Editor of seven books on the craft of writing, including Speaking of Journalism, Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir, and Going on Faith: Writing As a Spiritual Quest
  • 1990—Part-time jazz pianist in New York clubs. Composer and lyricist of the musical revue, “What’s the Point?” Lyricist for “Modern Love Songs,” music by Chester Biscardi
  • 2010-2011—Weekly blog, "Zinsser on Friday", about the arts and popular culture. Author of the resulting book, The Writer Who Stayed.
  • Died May 12, 2015, New York City
  • William Zinsser’s papers are at the Fales Library, New York University, located in the Elmer Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, New York, NY 10012-1091