Hard-hitting writer Pete Hamill, who will appear in Bexley April 30, learned his craft from the ground up, starting on the stoops and streets of Brooklyn and continuing through the jungles of Manhattan and other war zones.
|Journalist and novelist Pete Hamill, whose 48-year career has taken him from his native New York City to all over the world, will appear as part of the Bexley Community Book Club’s year-long celebration of his work, April 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Bexley High School.|
His 48-year career has taken him to Vietnam and Nicaragua and Lebanon, put him on the scene of the World Series and the attack on the World Trade Center, brought him face-to-face with everyone from Frank Sinatra to Irish Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams.
In between journalism assignments, he has managed to write memoirs (A Drinking Life), novels (North River, A Snow in August) and meditations on media (News is a Verb), as well as movie and television scripts.
His omnivorous interests make him almost an extinct species in this age of specialization. They have led him to offer cogent commentary on such diverse topics as the war on drugs, modern art, jazz and boxing.
In the end, he has always returned to his Manhattan, and has become deeply identified with the metropolis.
It was his range of expression and experience that made Hamill the ideal choice as the first featured author of the Bexley Community Book Club, launched last fall to promote reading and raise money for the Bexley Education Foundation.
In his presentation in the Schottenstein Theater at Bexley High School, Hamill’s topic will be "Fiction and Journalism: What’s the Difference?"
Few writers are more qualified to address that topic, by virtue of his mastery of both genres.
In his essay "Secret Cities," included in the collection Piecework, Hamill observes that there has never been a great novel written about New York, and that writers from Fitzgerald to Doctorow have only captured fragments of its ever-changing facades.
"The great novel of twentieth-century New York might be the Daily News," where he worked as a reporter and editor, Hamill comments.
If that is so, Hamill has contributed copious chapters to that story.
Born in 1935 as the oldest of seven children to Irish immigrant parents, Hamill grew up in an era when newstands groaned under the weight of daily and weekly periodicals.
There was no television, so everyone read the papers, Hamill remembers, absorbing the sports writing of Red Barber and the adventures of Milt Caniff’s "Terry and the Pirates."
Hamill cut out and collected the strips and practiced his own drawing with an eye on becoming an artist.
Kids played stickball in the street with rubber spaldeens, without an adult in sight to interfere. Summers were punctuated with trips to Ebbets Field to see the Dodgers and to Coney Island for a Nathan’s hot dog.
Other influences included the local library and the neighborhood movie theater.
"Books made us think; movies let us dream," Hamill writes in "Spaldeen Summers."
In the optimistic atmosphere of post-war America, even the son of working-class parents could dream big.
"To a kid (and to millions of adults) everything seemed possible," Hamill recalls. "This was New York. You could even be an artist. Or a writer."
Hamill’s dreams were delayed, but not derailed, after he dropped out of high school at 16 and took a job as a sheet metal worker at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, followed by a stint in the Navy.
Along with his Brooklyn upbringing, these experiences put Hamill in contact with people from different backgrounds, honing his ability to talk to people at all levels of society.
He completed his high school education while in the Navy and continued under the G.I. Bill to study painting in New York and Mexico.
In 1960, he found his true vocation, landing a job as a reporter for the New York Post and quickly becoming one of the authentic voices of the city.
Here he mingled with the famous, finding the longings of his generation in the person of Sinatra (captured in a biographical essay, Why Sinatra Matters), as well as the infamous, seeing arrogance personified in the figure of the Dapper Don, John Gotti.
Even a city as large as Manhattan was too small to contain a curiosity as wide as Hamill’s, and he became a war correspondent on several continents, and a political commentator who ended up on Richard Nixon’s enemies list.
He was only a few blocks from Ground Zero when the jets struck the World Trade Center towers and rushed to the scene as the structures collapsed.
His reporting on the attacks and the aftermath provide a moving chronicle of the events, and a rueful commentary on the slow pace of the healing process.
In an online interview with Kacey Kowars, Hamill talks about his latest novel, North River, a tribute to the courage of "quiet heroes" who survived the Depression with compassion and dignity.
These people demonstrated "generosity and decency and a sense of obligation to your neighbors" during hard times, he tells Kowars. "They didn’t talk tough. They were tough. That toughness allowed you to endure."
The novel even includes a cameo appearance by a skinny, unknown singer from New Jersey performing at the Roseland Ballroom.
Hamill has lost none of his punch over the years, and his predictions for the Bush presidency, issued in January, 2001, were eerily prescient.
"He will try to find some small nation to beat up, wrap the assault in flowery idealistic language and thus try to look presidential," Hamill foresaw for the victor of a disputed election faced with a divided congress.
Iraq seemed a likely target for the son of the man whose father failed to remove Saddam Hussein, Hamill suggested.
"We should all be prepared for the sight of corpses," he warned.
In a 2007 interview with the Boston Globe, Hamill demonstrated that the lessons he learned growing up in a tough neighborhood are never far away.
Bush and Cheney failed to contemplate the consequences of their actions, he said, "because they didn’t grow up in Brooklyn, where you know if you punch some guy in the mouth, he’s going to come back with three other guys and punch you back. These people live well-defended lives."
Pete Hamill will speak April 30 at 7:30 p.m. at Bexley High School’s Schottenstein Theater, followed by a book signing. WBNS 10TV news anchor Andrea Cambern will serve as master of ceremonies at the community-wide presentation.
Hamill’s visit to Bexley will also include a private "meet and greet" dinner reception for sponsors at Giuseppe’s Ritrovo.
Advance general admission tickets are $25 each; tickets are $30 at the door. Student ticket prices are available.
Proceeds from Bexley Community Book Club, through sponsorships, ticket sales and book sales, will help support literary, performing and visual arts facilities and/or programs for the Bexley City Schools through the Arts Endowment Fund of the Bexley Education Foundation.
For tickets and information, call the BEF office at 338-2093 or log on to www.bexleyeducationfoundation.org.
The Bexley Education Foundation funds programs and projects to ensure educational excellence in the Bexley City Schools.