Longtime Village Voice fixture, fierce civil libertarian and noted jazz critic Nat Hentoff admits that perusing reader comments about his involuntary separation has amounted to “hearing my obituaries while I’m still here.”
He’s been laid off, but at 83 still continues to write as a syndicated columnist and for the Washington Times and other publications, and will have two books coming out this year.
Hentoff penned his final piece for the weekly on Tuesday, and it’s a sterling one, brimming with fond memories and laced with the hard-nosed perspective of a social observer who came along in the wake of McCarthyism, when the urge to break out of social and journalistic conventions was high:
“I came here in 1958 because I wanted a place where I could write freely on anything I cared about. There was no pay at first, but the Voice turned out to be a hell of a resounding forum. My wife, Margot—later an editor here and a columnist far more controversial than I’ve been—called what this paper was creating aa community of consciousness.’ Though a small Village ‘alternative’ newspaper, we were reaching many around the country who were turned off by almost any establishment you could think of.”
His views are complicated and controversial, and he refuses to mince words, especially as a pro-life advocate. Hentoff is an anomaly in our glittering, preening media age. To read through the eclectic range of his ideas and his interests is to be delighted and maddened in alternate doses.
Clyde Haberman sums him up well in the New York Times.
Hentoff is a contrarian not for sake of being one, but because the process of independent, critical thought — which he believed impossible without a healthy Bill of Rights and a vigilant press — often led him to iconoclastic conclusions.
And he approaches his journalism in a similar clear-eyed fashion:
” I was in my twenties when I learned my most important lesson from Izzy Stone: ‘If you’re in this business because you want to change the world, get another day job. If you are able to make a difference, it will come incrementally, and you might not even know about it. You have to get the story and keep on it because it has to be told.‘ “