The February issue was the final one to be edited by William Whitworth -- his 227th. Bill Whitworth would be the last person to offer an assessment of his nineteen years at The Atlantic. He has always insisted that the magazine speak for itself. His byline has never appeared in these pages. But Whitworth commissioned every article in the magazine, approved every short story and poem, scrutinized every sentence and line. His serene manner and soft drawl could not conceal his deep passions: for original thinking and brilliant writing, for humor, for the basic -- and the subtle -- rules of the English language. His penciled comments on galley proofs, in a precise hand, were legendary for their authority and economy. A circled word accompanied by a tiny "must we?" in the margin might as well have been a traffic barrier with flashing lights. In an age of excessive encomiums, Whitworth on rare occasions bestowed a "good piece" at the end of a proof. Some writers had the words framed.
Bill Whitworth was born and raised in Arkansas. His first job in journalism was as a general-assignment reporter for the Arkansas Gazette. He came north in 1963, to the New York Herald Tribune, and in 1966 he joined the staff of William Shawn's New Yorker, first as a writer and then as an editor. During Whitworth's tenure at The Atlantic the magazine won nine National Magazine Awards. Whitworth also brought to the magazine a particular interest in graphic design, and under his editorship The Atlantic was noted for its visual content, earning hundreds of awards for illustration. Neither of these yardsticks would be chosen by Whitworth's writers and colleagues to take his essential measure. He simply embodies the high standards to which those around him aspire.
Every new Atlantic editor has brought new ideas and emphases. Every editor has also upheld a view of the magazine once expressed by the eighth editor, Ellery Sedgwick. The Atlantic, he wrote, "should face the whole of life, its riddles, its adventures; the critical questions of the day, the problems of the human heart." It faces them still.
The Atlantic Monthly; March 2000; 77 North Washington Street - 00.03; Volume 285, No. 3; page 4.