I was apprehensive about writing a piece remembering author Christopher Hitchens, who passed away on Dec. 15, 2011 from complications of esophageal cancer. I'm sure he is being eulogized much more eloquently by other writers, and there is also his impressive – daunting, even – legacy to contend with.
His friend and employer Graydon Carter, the longtime editor in chief of Vanity Fair, said of Hitchens, "He wrote often – constantly, in fact – and he wrote fast, frequently without the benefit of a second draft or even corrections."
What I write here now is the result of jotted down notes, several drafts, and more than a few glasses of wine, and still it won't do Hitchens justice. But what I hope it does do is remind people of the particular passion to which Hitchens dedicated his life and which kept him driven until his dying day: contrarianism.
He was a writer's writer, a natural talent, a writing machine. His closest friends were also writers, and some of the greats at that, like Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, and Martin Amis. He was not only open to taking time out for aspiring writers who approached him for help, but took these requests quite seriously. He even wrote a book for young literary hopefuls titled Letters to a Young Contrarian.
It was this quality, out of all of his attributes, that demonstrated his love for the literary arts and which revealed his greatest contribution to writing itself: He gave literature back its moxie. In an industry responsible for producing more drivel and drip than inspiring reflections of the times, Hitchens' contrarian attitude challenged the weakened status quo.
Take Hitchens' best-selling book, God Is Not Great, for example. He not only chose to take on one of the biggest, most powerful institutions in society – past and present – but the way in which he attacked every facet of religious belief was so unapologetic in its conviction, it practically renders readers to their feet in impassioned defense. After reading the book for the first time I felt so inspired, like I could run a marathon!
When was the last time you read a book that made you feel that empowered? His conviction, intelligence, and independence were his greatest gifts, which we must strive never to forget. Challenge everything and never take anything for granted. Be a contrarian.
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