For A Good Time In Cambridge, Take Two: Hendrik Hertzberg-Ta-Nehisi Coates edition
Once again: all y’all in the greater Boston area, something surpassing cool to do next Tuesday, October 29. Ta-Nehisi will be talking with New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg at 7 p.m. The event description isn’t up on the MIT calendar yet, but it’ll read something like this:
Hendrik Hertzberg has been one of the most influential opinion writers in and around Washington for decades. Most of his career has been spent at the home of the monocle and the top hat (The New Yorker), but he’s also had two stints as editor of The New Republic, during which he led the publication to three National Magazine Awards.
Hertzberg returned to The New Yorker for good (so far) in 1992, and is now senior editor and staff writer (mostly of the Comment section in Talk of the Town). He’s won yet one more National Magazine Award — in 2006, for his opinion writing. In between writing gigs, he’s also worked as a speechwriter for President Carter and has done a pair of tours as a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. He has three books to his credit, including the 2009 reissue of his 1976 prefiguring of data journalism and visualization, One Million.
The other thing to know about Hertzberg is that he is one of those writers on whose work other writers take notes. Ta-Nehisi Coates and he will talk about how writing opinion can and/or should be informed by the practices and habits of journalism — and much more, including, no doubt, something about what to make of the current predicaments of American politics.
I don’t think I’m breaking any confidences to tell you that Ta-Nehisi basically reveres Hertzberg — for the reason hinted at above. Hertzberg works his writing. Don’t be fooled by the light touch of which he is capable: that comes from the kind of effort John Kenneth Galbraith had in mind when he said (I paraphrase from memory) “the treasured note of spontaneity critics find in my writing comes in between the seventh and eighth draft.”
Ta-Nehisi and I talk a lot about that: how to write with honesty, passion, and perhaps above all a love of beauty in words that isn’t just about aesthetic — it’s how you infuse your argument with power and meaning both. I’ve never met Hertzberg, but Ta-Nehisi tells me that it’s that kind of thing that he studies in the work. So those of us who love the craft, who want to get better at it, should have a lot to chew on Tuesday night. And, of course, Hendrik Hertzberg has a bit to say about the bitter comedy that is contemporary American politics, so there’s that — should be good for this crowd.
A couple of housekeeping notes. I’ll be moderating the event, so it’ll be good to put faces to names/handles of any Balloon-Juicers in the crowd. Another thing: last time I promoted one of these in this space we had Chris Hayes and Ta-Nehisi together in a hall waaaaay too small for the crowd, and too many got turned away. We’re in the biggest lecture hall in MIT’s Stata Center this time, (r00m 123) three times bigger than that first venue, so don’t be deterred.
I’ll probably be posting a reminder or two a little later, but for now, consider yourself invited.
Images: Paul Cezanne, The Artist’s Father, Reading “L’Événement,” 1866
Thomas Eakins, The Writing Master, 1882