The Washington Post

Christopher Hitchens dies, leaves stories behind

Christopher Hitchens in D.C. in 2010. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

From William Grimes in the New York Times, with a clue as to where Hitchens got some talent:

Though it strained the family budget, Christopher was sent to private schools in Tavistock and Cambridge, at the insistence of his mother. “If there is going to be an upper class in this country, then Christopher is going to be in it,” he overheard his mother saying to his father, clinching a spirited argument.

From Vanity Fair via AP :

For the May 2010 issue of Vanity Fair, before his illness, Hitchens submitted answers for the Proust Questionnaire, a probing and personal survey for which the famous have revealed everything from their favorite color to their greatest fear.

His vision of earthly bliss: “To be vindicated in my own lifetime.”

His ideal way to die: “Fully conscious, and either fighting or reciting (or fooling around).”

From Simon Jenkins in the Guardian:

When last month Intelligence Squared staged a down-the-line interview with Hitchens at the Royal Festival Hall, compered by Stephen Fry, they wondered if anyone would come. When Hitchens proved too ill to do more than text his replies, they feared a flop. The hall was sold out. Not many journalists could do that, even with the help of such friends and admirers as Richard Dawkins, Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Sean Penn and others. The caricature tales of drinking, womanising and U-turning were familiar enough, but what clear was something else, a widespread appreciation of a free spirit that owed nothing to anything but its own turbulent thought processes.

A blogger at the Corsair recalls being an intern at the Nation, a position that carried a de rigueur lunch date with Hitchens. They started out talking about the classics, with the aid of some lubrication. From the blog:

I don’t really remember what happened afterwards, except for the fact that we three downed two bottles of a very good wine and did colossal damage to some Johnny Walker Black. All in the space of an hour or so. Not good. I think I had the chicken. Or fish. Or some such meat product of similar texture. Christopher had to shoot a BBC documentary on capital punishment afterwards. Hitchens said goodbye politely, left with the sex goddess, and I, unfortunately, was left to my own devices as to getting to home.

I say home here and not The Nation because ... I was too [drunk] to go back to work. I got home a sweaty July mess and passed out on the bed visions of human rights violations danced in my head. I remember telling my girlfriend Janet about the lunch later, but the rest of the day was a drunken wash. Hitchens kicked my a__. I have superhuman drinking powers, as most writers do, but Hitchens, hands down, is the overlord.

From the Telegraph:

[H]is first complete sentence, according to family legend, was “Let’s all go and have a drink at the club.”

Christopher John Farley, in the Wall Street Journal, talks of enlisting Hitchens to write for Time magazine about America’s first encounters with terrorism centuries ago.

Hitchens didn’t use his exploration of the Barbary Wars as simply some sort of historical justification for America’s late 20th and early 21st century incursions into Iraq and Afghanistan. He concluded his article by writing “Those who like to look for lessons for today might care to note that Jefferson did not act unilaterally until he was satisfied that European powers would not join his coalition and that he did not seek to impose a regime change or an occupation of the Barbary States. And those who ponder the ethics of history might take a crumb of comfort from the fact that though he could not bring himself to abolish slavery in the U.S. and even supported its retention in Haiti, Thomas Jefferson at least managed to destroy it somewhere.”

I disagreed with Hitchens on many things, maybe most things, perhaps everything, but not one of those things came up when we worked together. Instead, we found ourselves talking about John Adams, James Madison, and a bit about Jamaica, where I was born. He took edits easily, diligently polished his copy, and made every deadline.

From Vanity Fair’s Graydon Carter:

I can recall a lunch in 1991, when I was editing The New York Observer, and he and Aimée Bell, his longtime editor, and I got together for a quick bite at a restaurant on Madison, no longer there. Christopher’s copy was due early that afternoon. Pre-lunch canisters of scotch were followed by a couple of glasses of wine during the meal and a similar quantity of post-meal cognac. That was just his intake. After stumbling back to the office, we set him up at a rickety table and with an old Olivetti, and in a symphony of clacking he produced a 1,000-word column of near perfection in under half an hour.

From Christopher Buckley, in an unforgettable New Yorker appreciation:

David Bradley, the owner of The Atlantic Monthly, to which Christopher contributed many sparkling essays, once took him out to lunch at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown. It was — I think — February and the smoking ban had gone into effect. Christopher suggested that they eat outside, on the terrace. David Bradley is a game soul, but even he expressed trepidation about dining al fresco in forty-degree weather. Christopher merrily countered, “Why not? It will be bracing.”

Lunch — dinner, drinks, any occasion — with Christopher always was. One of our lunches, at Café Milano, the Rick’s Café of Washington, began at 1 P.M., and ended at 11:30 P.M. At about nine o’clock (though my memory is somewhat hazy), he said, “Should we order more food?” I somehow crawled home, where I remained under medical supervision for several weeks, packed in ice with a morphine drip. Christopher probably went home that night and wrote a biography of Orwell. His stamina was as epic as his erudition and wit.

From June Thomas, Hitchens’s editor at Slate magazine:

Editing Christopher Hitchens, who died Thursday at the age of 62, was the easiest job in journalism. He never filed late — in fact, he was usually early, even when he was clearly very sick — and he managed to make his work seem like a great lark. His weekly e-mails always read the same jaunty way: “Herewith. Hope it serves, As always, Christopher.”

From John Dugan, Time Out Chicago:

I had been a massive fan since my college days and hope to meet ’em once I moved back to DC. Luckily, I ended up with the job of minding the “talent” for a day at the [Association of Alternative Newsweeklies] conference where I was working for [Washington City Paper]. I had a nice chat with him before his speaking gig. He was charming, funny and much friendlier than you might expect. I was starstruck.

From Julian Barnes, writing in Slate about the time after he’d published his first novel:

After a few weeks had passed — and we had met several times in the course of them — I said to him (and I suspect there was a touch of aggression in my voice), “Hitch, did you read my novel?” Almost as soon as I had said it, I knew it was a mistake.

He looked at me, looked away, paused, assumed a deeply reflective air. “Did I read your novel?” He nodded a little to himself, as if sifting through a vast archive of recent fiction. He knew he had me — and there was nothing he liked more than the sort of conversation/discussion/argument in which one person might wield an advantage over another. And the wielder, in almost every case I saw, would always be the Hitch.

From Anne Applebaum, in Slate:

Hitchens talked, and wrote, and talked. And then he read books about everything — I distinctly remember several conversations about the Polish Communist party of the 1930s, about which he was well distinctly well-informed — and then he talked some more. His love of the English language led him to spend a lifetime perfecting its use, in both oral and written forms. Others are going to write about his political journey from Trotskyism, or about his public atheism, or about his loathing for Henry Kissinger and Mother Teresa. I want to remember him for the book reviews and the literary essays, the jokes that didn’t seem like jokes until you thought hard about them, and the extraordinary ability to deploy or destroy the words of Christopher Robin and Karl Marx. He didn’t believe in heaven. But anyone who believes in the power of words will miss him here on earth.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.


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