James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Christopher Hewitt Papers

Christopher Hewitt
(Credit: Richard Kanuck)
Christopher Hewitt was a gay poet, disabled activist, recovering alcoholic, editor, and college teacher. His writing is often autobiographical and addresses the issues of disability, discrimination, and communication, among others. The Hewitt Papers (GLC 67) document his life and work. The collection includes poetry, prose, correspondence, journals and diaries, photographs, sketches, drawings, and audio-visual materials.

Mightier Than The Mouth
Born on February 2, 1946 in Nottingham, Hewitt grew up in the villages of Welland and Upton-on-Severn in Worcestershire, England. He was born with a brittle bone condition called osteogenesis imperfecta and used a wheelchair from the age of nine. He came to the United States for university and lived and worked in the U.S. until his death in 2004.

Hewitt received an M.A. in English from the University of California, Davis in 1976, and an M.F.A . in Poetry at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1981. He taught creative writing and English at Fordham University, John Jay College, and University of San Francisco.

Love's Fool
He was also Associate Editor of Art & Understanding, a magazine in which writers and artists respond to the AIDS crisis. One folder contains writing by others that Hewitt considered for publication in The James White Review, Able-Together, or Art & Understanding.

Hewitt was gregarious and had the ability to engage people he did not know in conversation. A frequent denizen at Cafe Flore in San Francisco's Castro neighborhood, Chris titled one of his poetry cycles "Cafe Society." He published chapbooks of poetry, including The Careless Days, and The Infinite Et Cetera, and his poems appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, The American Poetry Review, Salmagundi, and Cimarron Review.

Interview with Armistead Maupin
Hewitt wrote the libretti for two song cycles, Metamorphosis and Amours, music by Benton Hess, which were performed in New York City and Oberlin, Ohio. He also wrote the libretto for a cantata Cantata V: Raggedstone Hill, music by Dennis Riley, which was performed in New York City. Hewitt was asked to provide an introductory poem for The Great Spangled Fritillary by Andrew Thomas. The collection includes an audiorecording of Seeing with the Heart, with music by Richard Maltz and text by Hewitt.

"Of Course I Have My Regrets"
drawing by Hewitt
Often Hewitt's writing draws from his own experience. There is a notebook with drafts of Hewitt's memoir Brittle Bones, a more final version of the same in the typescripts, and an audiotape with a reading of Chapter One in Series 7. Some of Hewitt's writing touches on his recovery from alcoholism, his work with people with HIV and AIDS, and interviews with writers such as Armistead Maupin, Paul Reed, and Ruth Felt.

The papers contain sketches and drawings by Hewitt, a small mounted painting by his mother J. M. Hewitt, and some printed posters by others. Several of the drawings by Hewitt have satirical captions. Many of the drawings are unsigned.

The Lifting Team
The collection contains three VHS tapes: one is a portrait of Hewitt, another is a reading by Hewitt. The third, Crip Shots, is a short documentary film with portraits of artists with disabilities. It features Judy Smith, Greg Walloch, Chris Hewitt, Bill Shannon, and Terry Galloway. There are also audiocassette tapes of readings and interviews by Hewitt. These include performances of The Blaspheming Moon and Seeing With The Heart.

Hewitt died due to complications from pneumonia on July 13, 2004 in San Francisco. He was survived by his mother Joan Hewitt. Hewitt's Papers were donated to the library by Robert Guter, September 29, 2005.

"Chris typing" (uncredited photo)
The Christopher Hewitt Papers (GLC 67) are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library. The photographs are available during the hours for the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.