Remembering Christopher Hitchens

A wartime lexicon.
Dec. 16 2011 11:05 AM

Christopher Hitchens Remembered

Tributes to the journalist and intellectual from Julian Barnes, Anne Applebaum, James Fenton and others.

Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011
Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

illustration by Charlie Powell.

Christopher Hitchens died on Thursday at age 62. He will be missed greatly here at Slate, where he wrote the “Fighting Words” column starting in 2002. To honor Hitch, we are collecting tributes from those who knew him best—his friends, colleagues, and fellow writers.

June Thomas, Hitchens’ editor at Slate
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.” READ MORE

Julian Barnes, novelist
In 1980, I published my first novel, in the usual swirl of unjustified hope and justified anxiety. I gave copies to my friends, including some of those I had worked with until recently on the New Statesman. Most of them acknowledged receipt; most attempted to make the encouraging noises the skinless first novelist needs to hear. But there was no response from the Hitch. READ MORE

Jacob Weisberg, Slate Group chairman
Amazing about Hitchens: his generosity to young people. He sought them out and befriended them. He responded when they called with requests to speak at their college, contribute to a symposium, or stand with any oppressed minority. He hated to say no to anything worthwhile, and cared less about getting paid than anyone I've ever known. After doing unaccountable favors for unimportant people, he named them comrades, which meant welcoming them into his circle of solidarity and acting as if they belonged in his home, with cocktails. READ MORE

James Fenton, poet and critic
I asked Christopher not long ago if he had felt, at the time that he made his decision to move to America, that in England there was always something holding him back. He had indeed felt something like this, although I cannot say I always felt it was for good reasons. Christopher, from the time that I knew him at Oxford, was always a brilliant speaker and debater, and in conversation incomparably interesting and engaging. I regularly turned to him before writing on any political subject, for that jumpstart he could administer so well. READ MORE

Gully Wells, author of The House in France
Walking down a mossy, medieval alley in Oxford, dressed in preposterous hot pants and high heeled suede boots (don’t ask, it was 1969) with my then-boyfriend, Martin Amis, we ran into two men I vaguely knew—Christopher and James Fenton—coming toward us. We stopped, I introduced them to Martin, we chatted briefly, and we all moved on.

I like to think that was the beginning of the deep, enduring friendship—actually more of a love affair—between Martin and Hitch that was to last 42 years, longer than either of their marriages. READ MORE

Annette Gordon-Reed, Harvard law professor
It is hard to believe it was six years ago that Christopher and I took a road trip to Thomas Jefferson’s mountaintop home, Monticello. Christopher was to do a talk about his short biography, Thomas Jefferson: Author of America, and I was to introduce him. I came down to Washington from New York the night before to stay in his home so that we could set out early and get there at a leisurely place. The pre-trip evening was convivial, with good conversation with Carol and their daughter Antonia, who made occasional appearances. READ MORE

Jonathan Karp, publisher, Simon & Schuster
I had the privilege of publishing two books by Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great and Hitch-22.  Here are 10 things about him I found particularly admirable:

1. He didn’t need much editing.
2. He had good ideas in the shower. That’s where he came up with the title for God Is Not Great. READ MORE

Andrew Sullivan, blogger
I could sense it coming. But I couldn't write anything beforehand and I cannot write anything worthy of him now. So I just sat down an hour ago when I heard the news—Aaron told me as he clicked on Gawker—and sat a while and got up to write and then blubbered a bit and, staring at the screen, read through some emails from him. READ MORE

David Corn, Washington bureau chief, Mother Jones
Here is how I came to hate Christopher Hitchens. Hate—as in envy.

In the early 1980s, as a twentysomething trying to start a career as a crusading journalist, I was fortunate enough to share an office with Hitchens. It was just the two of us. And one phone line. We were both working at The Nation. He had come to it as part of an exchange program with the New Statesman, a British publication, and had elected to remain in the wonderful and wild New York City of the late disco era. I was an editorial grunt. The magazine was running short on workspace, and we were assigned a small, windowless office on a floor apart from the main offices. READ MORE

Anne Applebaum, journalist and director of political studies  at the Legatum Institute
“I see you were feeling eeyorish about Macedonia last week.” As far as I recall, those were the first words Christopher Hitchens ever said to me.  They threw me completely. What was this new adjective, “eeyorish”? From which language did it derive? READ MORE

Fred Kaplan, author and Slate columnist
I met Christopher Hitchens in the early 1980s, soon after he first moved to America. We were both in D.C. I was friends with a few expat British journalists, who of course were old chums of “the Hitch,” so it was natural that we’d be introduced. READ MORE

Alexander Chancellor, Guardian columnist
In retrospect it seems obvious that Christopher Hitchens always needed a larger canvas on which to perform in his many roles as a journalist, debater, and public intellectual, but it nevertheless came as a surprise to many in London when this left-wing British Marxist, apparently happily ensconced in the socialist weekly the New Statesman, suddenly took off for the United States in 1981, never to return. READ MORE

Matt Labash, senior writer, the Weekly Standard
No secrets are being divulged when I report that Christopher liked a drink every now and then.  Preferably now. He wasn’t sloppy about it. In fact, he always seemed in perfect control (I once saw him steer a beach bike through the streets of Key West without spilling his Scotch.) He just liked to keep the machine well-oiled so he could get on to more important things, like liberating oppressed peoples of the world, knocking out his 10,000 words a day, or starting fights with God, assuming there is one, which he doesn’t. In some ways, his affection for drink brought us together, setting in motion my most vivid memories of him. READ MORE

Peter Florence, director of the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts
There was one year, 2003 I think, we kept him onstage all day at Hay. He started on Waugh with Bill Deedes, the model for William Boot in Scoop. He argued the influence of the Congress of Vienna with Eric Hobsbawm for a couple of hours. Instead of lunch, he delivered an extraordinary lecture on Tom Paine and constitutional law. There was a 20-minute Rothmans break. About eight cigarettes. He hadn’t stopped drinking Johnny Walker Black Label at any point from 10 a.m. READ MORE

Hussein Ibish, writer
Because Christopher Hitchens was so politically confrontational and devastating to his opponents, the public is largely unaware of his intense personal generosity and kindness. Time and again, he went far beyond the normal duties of friendship. As our mutual friend Michael Weiss aptly puts it, "Friendship was his ideology." READ MORE

Victor Navasky, former editor and publisher, The Nation
I became editor of The Nation in 1978, and one of the first and best things I did that year was to ask, via old-fashioned snail mail, a writer I didn't know, but whose elegant pieces I had been reading in the New Statesman, and everywhere else, since he seemed to be traveling the world anyway, why not write an occasional article forThe Nation? Which he proceeded to do with elegance, wit, and brilliance. READ MORE

David Wolpe, rabbi
My first moments with Christopher Hitchens were interrupted by a man who pointed out that on the back of my book on faith, a reviewer was quoted saying “even Christopher Hitchens might find his heart warmed.” So, the man asked Hitchens, was your heart warmed?  Hitchens regarded my book as an enforcer from Men in Black might look at a particularly repellant alien. “Oh no,” he said, “my heart is far too reptilian for that.” READ MORE

Peter Pringle, author
Christopher covered the bloodless Portuguese revolution in April 1974, that brought down the 20th century's oldest fascist regime. He arrived at the Tivoli Hotel in Lisbon ahead of most of us, as usual. (I was then working for Harry Evans'Sunday Times.) As I got out of a taxi, he was standing on the hotel steps. He was wearing a white suit, well, it might not have been a suit, but it was white, and he was puffing on a cigarette. From the top of the steps, he called out, "Hello, comrade. This is a real revo." READ MORE

Craig Raine, writer and founding editor of Arté
Hitch took part in a Vanity Fair debate at the Oxford Union with Sidney Blumenthal and Alan Clark. It was organized by the then editor, Tina Brown. Hitch got to his feet: “I stand before you, without shame, reeking of cigarettes and alcohol …” (The debating topic was public and private morality in politicians.) READ MORE

Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue
This past July, I gave a book party for my friend Gully Wells. Christopher Hitchens—or Hitch, as he was known to me and just about everyone else—came, as did Martin Amis and James Fenton, who were among his closest friends. It ended up being a reunion of sorts. We’d all known each other for a long time; a million years ago, in London, I’d dated Hitch, and Gully had dated Martin. READ MORE

Katie Roiphe, author and columnist
I first met Christopher on the set of the Charlie Rose show at a low point early in my career of provocation. The attacks were beginning to get to me, and I was thinking: Is it really worth having every nice, right-thinking liberal person in the country hate you? READ MORE

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