Ode to Bill Zinsser

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I was in my garage, rushing to work when my cell phone rang:  “This is Bill Zinsser—did you call me?”  Yes I had. In that moment I’d have dropped the phone on the cement if I’d not been clutching it so tightly at the sound of his name. I stood transfixed.


Barbara Floersch and I were about five years into the job of updating Program Planning & Proposal Writing when we hit a roadblock. We thought we’d work it out but so far no solution was in sight. This was the only time in our years of synchronized teamwork that we’d disagreed on something of substance. But we did agree that if we could reach Bill Zinsser, his word was law.


Bill’s the guy who wrote: “Clear thinking becomes clear writing; One can’t exist without the other.” which encapsulates the philosophy behind our training and our publications. He’s the brilliant author of many books including On Writing Well, the book Barbara introduced me to and which I used as a tonic whenever I lost spirit.


“How can I help?”


Googling “william zinsser” had given me a number in New York City that led to an answering machine. I’d left a message a week earlier. Now I had the ear of my hero. He listened. He asked a few focused questions and then, between us, we had an answer.


I tried to say how much he had helped as I stammered my thanks. But he was ready to move on—to put on his cape and fly away into the sky to avert another crisis somewhere else. We had talked for nearly an hour and I’d never moved an inch but my whole world had shifted. Who was that man?


Thanks a million, Bill. Thanks a million.


About two months ago, I had the chance to let Bill know that the book was finally published and to thank him again. William Zinsser died in New York City, May 12, 2015, at the age of 92.


—Cathleen E. Kiritz

President, The Grantsmanship Center


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