Christopher Hitchens is still stirring controversy, nearly a decade after his death.
In a hyped-up literary feud that Hitchens would have mocked, his widow and literary agent are seeking to halt a planned biography of the writer.
Carol Blue-Hitchens and Steve Wasserman sent an e-mail to Hitchens' associates asking them not to cooperate with author Stephen Phillips, who has a contract with W.W. Norton to publish "Pamphleteer: The Life and Times of Christopher Hitchens" in 2022.
The rarefied dispute gained momentum with a New York Times article Tuesday, following biographer David Nasaw's condemnation of Blue-Hitchens and Wasserman in a recent essay in the Nation.
Nasaw, the award-winning biographer of Andrew Carnegie and Joseph P. Kennedy, accused Blue-Hitchens and Wasserman of engaging "in a kind of censorship" and pointed out that efforts to control a subject's image through authorized biographies often backfire.
Calling Hitchens a significant figure of his times, Nasaw defended Phillips' effort to present opposing views of him.
A longtime writer for the Nation, Hitchens broke with his leftist colleagues over his support for the Iraq war and his increasingly misogynistic writing. A gifted raconteur, Hitchens frequently appeared on TV and as a public speaker.
As a leftist writer earlier in his career, Hitchens gained notoriety for books exposing Mother Teresa and Henry Kissinger. A noted atheist, Hitchens reportedly shunned religious conversion while dying of cancer in 2011.
The email by Blue-Hitchens and Wasserman sounds like something from a satirical novel by David Lodge or Richard Russo, or even Evelyn Waugh, if e-mails had existed during his life.
"Dear Family, Friends, Colleagues, Fellow Scribblers, Brothers & Sisters, Comrades:
We are aware that a self-appointed would-be biographer, one Stephen Phillips, is embarked on a book on Christopher. We read his proposal and are dismayed by the coarse and reductive approach. We have no confidence in this attempt at the man in full. We are not cooperating and we urge you to refuse all entreaties by Mr. Phillips or his publisher, W.W. Norton.
Feel free to contact us with any questions as you may have.
Carol & Steve
Carol Blue-Hitchens, Executor of the Estate of Christopher Hitchens
Steve Wasserman, Literary Agent"
As The New York Times article pointed out, the email is self-defeating because it would silence those with the most favorable views of Hitchens. And those close to Hitchens are resisting; Hitchens' brother, Peter, a British conservative columnist, talked with Phillips, the Times article said
It's unlikely that Phillips can find many new revelations about Hitchens. He himself wrote the revealing and entertaining memoir "Hitch" before his death and has appeared in memoirs and a recent novel, "Inside Story," by his close friend Martin Amis. Former colleagues like Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn attacked Hitchens in print.
Phillips' title, "Pamphleteer," does seem limited. Hitchens was much more than that. But he wrote in the spirit of old-time pamphleteers like Thomas Paine. Perhaps the title is metaphorical.
Hitchens was a public intellectual who courted controversy. Blue-Hitchens and Wasserman's dubious campaign against Phillips runs counter to Hitchens' ideals.