Martin Amis asks ‘what could be more agreeable’ than today’s memorial for a man of many disagreements, Christopher Hitchens
A week after what would have been his 63rd birthday, the late Christopher Hitchens had one more big party in him: this morning, media and literary luminaries gathered at the Great Hall of Cooper Union to pay tribute to the writer, who died of esophageal cancer last December.
The atmosphere throughout the two-hour program that brought hundreds of people to the venue was rife with the late journalist and bon vivant's trademark humor, contrarianism and bacchanalism.
"In addition to being a brilliant journalist, Christopher was a wit, a charmer and above all, a bit of a scallywag," said Graydon Carter, the editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, one of the magazines where Hitchens was a long-time contributor, and which hosted the event.
"I think we can also agree that he was the beau idéal of the public intellectual," Carter continued, describing Hitchens as "a man of ferocius appetite, for scotch, for cigarettes and talk. ... He wrote fast, frequently without the benefit of a second draft, or even corrections. You'd be hard pressed to find a writer today who could match the volume of exquisitely crafted columns, dispatches and books that he produced over four decades."
Passages from a number of these were read by a dazzling array of Hitchens' friends and colleagues, including Victor Navasky, Tom Stoppard, Christopher Buckley, James Wood, Salman Rushdie and Ian McEwan. Several of Hitchens' family members, including his widow, Carol Blue, also read selections from his prodigious repertoire. Peter Hitchens recited a bit of New Testament verse that his famously atheistic brother had read at their father's funeral a quarter of a century earlier. It was a letter from Paul to the Philippians.
Earlier, the physicist Lawrence Krauss spoke about Hitchens' fascination with science as pictures of the cosmos appeared on three large screens that provided the backdrop for the stage. He pointed to a small asteroid "about the size of Manhattan" hurtling through space between Mars and Jupiter. It was discovered in 2002 and named "Hitchens 57901."
"Christopher now has his own cosmic legacy," said Kraus.
Toward the end of the service, before a brief Alex Gibney-made documentary of Hitchens clips from over the years, Martin Amis gave a 10-minute eulogy that began by describing Hitchens' charm and charisma.
"The most striking thing about Christopher was how widely he was loved," said Amos.
He ended by recalling one of British-American author's favorite phrases: "What could be more agreeable."
"He would say it while he, I and others settled down for 16 or 17 hours for food, drink, tobacco, conversation," said Amis. "And I just want to ask, who could be more agreeable than Hitch?"