When journalist and political satirist P.J. O'Rourke arrived at Johns Hopkins University for graduate school in 1969, he was unaware of how drastically his life was about to change.
A long-haired student activist, he enrolled in a program called the Writing Seminars, planning to become a serious poet or literary novelist. He was especially fond of modern poets like T.S. Eliot who trafficked in academic references and difficult-to-comprehend passages. But while he was beavering away with the composition of obscure stanzas, kismet stepped in and introduced O'Rourke to a group of Hopkins' writers who were putting together an underground newspaper called Harry. He began writing for nascent paper and realized that he possessed unusual talent for comedic and irreverent prose. When he graduated in 1970 with a Master of Arts in English, O’Rourke was well on his way to shucking off his literary ambitions, but only in the service of becoming a writer who could reach a far larger audience.
In the early 1970s, he made a name for himself as a regular contributor and later editor-in-chief of The National Lampoon, a ground-breaking humor magazine that helped shape American comedy for decades to come. He went on to write more than 20 books, including two No. 1 New York Times bestsellers: Parliament of Whores and Give War a Chance. Universally respected for his wit and storytelling, O'Rourke covered subjects as diverse as politics, economics, etiquette, and automobiles. During his lengthy and well-traveled career, he covered war and unrest everywhere from the Philippines to El Salvador. Eventually, he assumed the role of H.L. Mencken Research Fellow at Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank. In addition to his many books, he was a regular panelist on NPR's "Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me," and a contributing writer for Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, The Atlantic Monthly, and Esquire, among other top national publications.
O'Rourke's affection for his alma mater never diminished throughout his lifetime, and in 2018, The Johns Hopkins Magazine caught up with the prolific scribe for a long overdue interview. Pulling from his years of vast experience, O'Rourke discussed a wide range of topics for the benefit of the Hopkins community. With his characteristic blend of entertainment and seriousness, he talked about how to tell if something is funny, as well as topics in economics and blockchain technology, the latter of which he saw as a possible tool to "clear up" all of those "backroom functions of brokerage houses and stock markets and commodity markets and so on..."
O'Rourke passed away in February 2022, but the effect of his influence remains as strong as ever on the Hopkins campus, which continues to keep all of his books accessible to the next generation of bestselling authors.