As a freshman in Directed Studies, Molly Worthen ’03 GRD ’11 said, she once adorned a notebook with the sentence “Charles Hill is God,” the new author told an audience of about 30 students at a Jonathan Edwards College Master’s Tea on Thursday.
At the Tea, Worthen discussed the creation and publication of her new book, “The Man on Whom Nothing Was Lost: The Grand Strategy of Charles Hill,” the in-depth personal and professional history of the Yale lecturer and diplomat-in-residence. Worthen detailed the process of her work, from its roots in a seminar paper that she wrote as an undergraduate to the full-fledged job it became after her graduation.
After beginning work on the 30-page seminar paper in John Gaddis’ “The Art of Biography,” Worthen said she soon realized that Hill’s life — from his work as a speech writer for Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1975 to his rocky divorce — should be documented in a much larger volume.
“We were meeting for two hours a day, seven days a week,” Worthen said. “It became obvious that [Hill] thought it would be a bigger enterprise than just a paper.”
Continuing the investigative interview process, Worthen began to learn the controversial details of Hill’s job in the Foreign Service. Worthen said Hill allowed her to look at about 22,000 pages of confidential notes from the “peak of his involvement in foreign policy.”
After graduation, Worthen obtained funding to continue her biographical study of Hill, and began to expand her interviews of Hill’s former friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Worthen said she spent five hours one afternoon interviewing Hill’s ex-wife, Martha Mitchell. Through her communications with Mitchell and her examination of Hill’s private notes, Worthen said the information she learned about Hill’s personal history somewhat destroyed her godlike vision of Charles Hill.
“There was this teacher I had so looked up to,” she said, “and now there was this period where I really hated him.”
Worthen said Hill never denied the skeletons in his closet, and in interviews, he often cut straight to the chase about his past personal problems. Worthen discussed the careful decisions she had to make about what personal details were appropriate for inclusion in the biography. Although she said she wanted to include Hill’s personal history for its dramatic interest, Worthen said she had to be judicious.
Though her book touches upon sensitive details of Hill’s personal life and his involvement in the Foreign Service, including his role in the Iran-Contra affair, Worthen said Hill has refused to read his own biography.
“He’s not a person who likes to dwell on his own past,” she said. “Although I think he enjoyed the process of interviewing with me, he says he will go to his grave without reading it.”
Worthen concluded by discussing her current friendship with Hill. She said that while she no longer views Hill as a deity, she still feels a special connection with him.
“I feel like I’ve seen him grow up,” Worthen said. “As funny as it sounds, I feel a little maternal to him.”
Lindsay Hayden ’06 said she disagreed with Worthen’s claim that students who read personal details revealed in Hill’s biography would change their view of Hill in the classroom.
“I think anyone that would take Charlie seriously is not going to worry about what is in his past,” Hayden said. “I’d be shocked if something as little as a biography would throw him off his guard.”
Several students said they found the talk interesting and were excited to read Worthen’s book.
“She left me with a lot of questions, because her subject is fascinating and I would love to learn more,” Katherine Linzer ’08 said.
Hayden also said she was curious to learn more about Hill’s past.
“I would have liked to hear about his kids a little bit more,” she said. “You can’t totally imagine what he’s like as a father figure.”
Worthen is currently on a tour around the country publicizing the biography, which will be released next Wednesday.