Years ago Chris Davis graduated from the University of Virginia and went to Kenya (1975–78) as a PCV. He served a year in Maasailand, another year in Kikuyuland and also volunteered with the Flying Doctors, did some field research with a primatologist in Amboseli, and had time to play rock guitar in the pit of the Kenya National Theatre.
Coming home, Chris got a job as a speechwriter for the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. And while he was at the NEA, he met Peace Corps writer Moritz Thomsen, and that is what is really important to know.
After meeting Moritz, Chris went onto work as a staff writer at U.S. News & World Report covering science and medicine as he had minor in pre-med at UVA.
Moving back to New York he worked as a news writer at NBC at 30 Rock and then went to work at Hearst Magazines on two magazines: Popular Mechanics and Motor Boating & Sailing before moving onto Reader’s Digest.
He also started free lancing for The New York Times, covering Westchester County from 2001 to 2005, and doing feature articles for Reader’s Digest (and several of its foreign editions). He is still writing for Readers’ Digest, and is also writing for Discovery Channel Magazine on everything from the International Space Station to the hominid fossil finds on Flores, Indonesia.
In 2005 he was named Aerospace Journalist of the Year by the Royal Aeronautical Society (London) for an article he wrote for McGraw-Hill’s Business and Commercial Aviation magazine about Lear jets. Most recently he was commissioned to write a book about a neurosurgeon in Virginia who, over the past 15 years, has built a hospital in Ghana.
But what does all that have to do with Moritz Thomsen?
Well, as Chris wrote me the other day:
I met Moritz Thomsen in 1981 through a friend in D.C. and accompanied him to a lecture at the Library of Congress given by Paul Theroux. Theroux had recently given Moritz a 3-page cameo in his Patagonia book and it was a big rush to hobnob withboth of these illustrious ex-Peace Corps gents at the reception.
Moritz took an interest in my writing and in fact took some of it back to New York to show to his agent. He returned to Ecuador and we never met again but stayed in touch writing the kind of indulgent, thoughtful, extravagant letters that most Peace Corps volunteers depend on to stay sane. Moritz and I shared a passion for great music and great literature, so we were never at a loss for stuff to kick around. He also entrusted me with editing his third book, The Saddest Pleasure, though my contributions to the final product are minimal, if there at all. I also tried to help get what would have been his fifth book, Bad News from a Black Coast, published, which led to the brief falling out we had, but mended.
What did come of our correspondence, however, was a deep and abiding friendship, which I think is clearly evident in these letters. He was a brilliant intellect with a deep generosity of spirit and zero tolerance level for bullshit. The ideal correspondent. His letters have always been a treasure to me, an encouragement to keep at it, and I thought it proper to share them with anyone who might be interested in reading them. Ideally, it will lead people back to his four books, which are never dated or dusty reads, but just as alive and vital as when they were written. I think his work has been unfairly left behind. This is the 20th anniversary of his death. Maybe he’s due.
What Chris Davis did was collect and publish the letters in his new book Letters from Moritz Thomsen that came out this month. You can find it at Amazon. Now this is a great holiday gift for any and all of us.