A thoughtful and thought-provoking profile of Andrew Sullivan in the Harvard Magazine:
Sullivan had been lightly ill that week, so he slept unusually late, until almost two in the afternoon. Before he was quite ready to deal with the world, he checked his mailbox—and woke up fast. Along with the news of the shooting was an urgent question from readers: Andrew, where are you?
Sullivan winced. He e-mailed his four young assistants: “We have to go cable”—that is, pump out blog posts 24/7. Then he climbed four unpainted wooden steps to what anyone else would call a large windowed closet and he calls “the blog cave.” He pulled a velvet curtain shut to seal himself off from his husband and their beagles, settled into an armchair with his laptop, and began a siege of blogging that would last six days.
Sullivan is HIV+
Andrew Sullivan is a lifelong asthma sufferer. He has sleep apnea, and at night wears a mask connected to a machine that regulates his breathing. And since 1993, he has been HIV-positive. Although Sullivan isn’t the only writer with HIV to have survived for almost two decades, no other HIV-positive writer publishes anything like 300 blog posts a week, year after year; he needs to monitor his health.
Sullivan earned a first-class degree (equivalent to a summa) in modern history and modern languages at Oxford, where, in his second year, he was president of the Oxford Union, the debating body that claims to be “the most illustrious student society in the world.” He won a Harkness Fellowship to the Kennedy School in 1984; back in London, he interned at the think tank of one of his idols, Margaret Thatcher. He returned to Harvard in 1989 to write his doctoral thesis, “Intimations Pursued: The Voice of Practice in the Conversation of Michael Oakeshott,” which won the government department’s Toppan Prize, for the best dissertation “upon a subject of Political Science.” In 1991, when he was just 27, he was named editor of the New Republic; under his leadership, the magazine grew impressively in both circulation and advertising. He left the New Republic five years later, “at the tail end of a series of differences,” says New Republic owner Martin Peretz, Ph.D. ’66. Sullivan moved on to write books and become a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for the Sunday Times (of London).
In 1996, when he revealed he had contracted HIV, a friend asked whom he had unprotected sex with. In Love Undetectable, his 1998 book about “friendship, sex, and survival,” Sullivan writes that he admitted it could have been anyone. His friend was incredulous: “Anyone? How many people did you sleep with, for God’s sake?”
In the book, Sullivan held nothing back. “Too many. God knows. Too many for meaning and dignity to be given to every one; too many for love to be present at each; too many for sex to be very often more than a temporary release from debilitating fear and loneliness.”
That is classic Sullivan: the unsparing candor, the over-sharing, the spiritual afterthought.