At a Morse College Master’s Tea Tuesday, Christopher Buckley ’75 said he first began writing satire as a way to express frustration with upsetting world events.
“I tend to write satire often on things that make me mad … things that annoy me,” Buckley said.
The author of “Thank You for Smoking” — the inspiration for director Jason Reitman’s recent comedy film — spoke before a group of more than 50 students about his life at Yale, where he was an editor of the News’ magazine, and his experiences as a political speech writer and journalist. Reitman was a guest for a Branford College Master’s Tea last Wednesday.
Buckley, who served as managing editor of “Esquire” magazine and as George H.W. Bush ’48’s chief vice presidential speech writer, said he decided to write “Thank You For Smoking” because he became fascinated with the tobacco lobbyist culture that is “selling death.”
Buckley also told stories about his “adventures” as a journalist. As the editor of Forbes Magazine’s lifestyle supplement, Buckley said, he wrote a hoax article in the early ’90s that claimed Russia was going to auction off Vladimir Lenin’s embalmed body.
“I was infatuated with the idea that Russians got rid of Communism, but not Lenin’s corpse,” he said.
But the hoax became a bit more serious when Peter Jennings of ABC News reported the story, Buckley said, prompting a Soviet minister to denounce Buckley personally.
“And I thought, ‘cool,’” he said.
As for his life at Yale, Buckley said one of his greatest academic influences was writer and former Yale professor William Zinsser, who taught his English 115 course.
“I’m very grateful to Yale,” he said. “[Writing] is very basic, but it needs to be learned. … I learned it here.”
Buckley advised aspiring writers to stay on course despite the challenging nature of the craft.
“It’s not for the faint of heart, but if it’s what you want to do, you should do it,” he said. “A book is kind of like a marathon. … You’ve got to do it every day. It’s like a lighting a fire.”
Reitman’s movie adaptation of his book was effective and well-executed, Buckley said, and it effectively translated pages of writing into mere seconds of film. Buckley said he is glad that Reitman inserted the 12-year-old son character into the movie, even though he did not appear in the original novel.
Many students said they enjoyed Buckley’s funny and engaging speaking style.
“He was humorous and entertaining for something that was informative,” Celina Kirchner ’10.
But others said they had wanted to hear more serious discussion of the issues in “Thank You For Smoking.”
“Maybe a little more about the particular stance he takes in his book,” Raju Patel MED ’08.
Buckley’s latest published book is “Florence of Arabia,” another satire, and he expects another novel, “Boomsday,” to hit the shelves next April.