Hunter S. Thompson’s letter rejecting Anthony Burgess’ novella idea is a stunningly savage put-down
Hunter S. Thompson was the first notable example of a deliberately non-objective style of reportage, known as ‘gonzo journalism’, and the author of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’.
During his time as editor of Rolling Stone magazine, he was handed a proposal by a certain Anthony Burgess, best known for writing ‘A Clockwork Orange’, who had been asked to write a thinkpiece but had instead proposed a novella.
This was Thompson’s withering response.
Dear Mr. Burgess,
Herr Wenner has forwarded your useless letter from Rome to the National Affairs Desk for my examination and/or reply.
Unfortunately, we have no International Gibberish Desk, or it would have ended up there.
What kind of lame, half-mad bullshit are you trying to sneak over on us? When Rolling Stone asks for “a thinkpiece”, goddamnit, we want a fucking Thinkpiece… and don’t try to weasel out with any of your limey bullshit about a “50,000 word novella about the condition humaine, etc…”
Do you take us for a gang of brainless lizards? Rich hoodlums? Dilettante thugs?
You lazy cocksucker. I want that Thinkpiece on my desk by Labor Day. And I want it ready for press. The time has come & gone when cheapjack scum like you can get away with the kind of scams you got rich from in the past.
Get your worthless ass out of the piazza and back to the typewriter. Your type is a dime a dozen around here, Burgess, and I’m fucked if I’m going to stand for it any longer.
Hunter S Thompson
Despite Thompson’s tough stance – or perhaps because of it – the Burgess thinkpiece never made it into Rolling Stone.
The Irish Times’ Books Editor, Martin Doyle, brought it to our attention with this admiring tweet.
Hunter S Thompson to Anthony Burgess- I love this so much I use it as a model for all my correspondence with contributors pic.twitter.com/Yh78GTwbx0
— Martin Doyle (@MartinDoyleIT) February 26, 2020
Remind us never to ask Martin for any leeway.
The letter seemed to inspire even more people.
I may have to reconsider my approach to contributors. https://t.co/z8dDwELdQL
— James McConnachie (@j_mcconnachie) February 26, 2020
My new recommendation for how to deal with First Person pieces for the Oxford Times https://t.co/vOLIuMzbg7
— Marc Evans (@MarcEvans17) February 27, 2020
This. But email version. On auto-reply. For tagged huddlums in my inbox. https://t.co/JBeOgWtnZa
— Malena (@apeirofilica) February 26, 2020
If you thought that was harsh, this other letter from Hunter S. Thompson, using a fake name, shared by Dr. Rory Feehan is even more eye-wateringly vicious.
Those “Please feel free to submit future work” responses seem like love letters now.