Versatile writer Hamill subject of Bexley Book Club discussion

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Kacey Kowars, an Internet interviewer, will discuss the work of Pete Hamill (shown here) in "An Author’s Journey," Jan. 13 at 3 p.m., at the Bexley Public Library, 2411 E. Main St.

In a world of increasing specialization, writer Pete Hamill stands out as a virtuoso of versatility.

For more than 40 years, he has made his reputation as a journalist, a novelist, a war correspondent and an observer of his native New York City and the world.

The spectrum of his work made him a good fit for the inaugural effort of the Bexley Community Book Club, according to Kacey Kowars, an Internet interviewer who will discuss Hamill’s work in "An Author’s Journey," Jan. 13 at 3 p.m., at the Bexley Public Library, 2411 E. Main St.

This will be the latest in a year-long schedule of events leading to Hamill’s appearance in Bexley April 30, where he will address students and residents.

According to Kowars, host of a web-based talk show focusing on contemporary writers,

Hamill is one of the last of the hard-hitting, straight-from-the-streets writers whose efforts cover the full range of the written word.

In addition to his work for the New York Post, the Village Voice, the New Yorker magazine and other periodicals, Hamill has published 10 novels, two short story collections, two biographies, along with movie and television scripts.

He has covered wars in Vietnam, Nicaragua and Northern Ireland, along with art, politics (ending up on Nixon’s enemies list) and everything from the World Series to Sept. 11, 2001.

It is an unlikely output for a man from a blue-collar Irish immigrant family who dropped out of high school at 16 to take a job at the Brooklyn Navy Yard as a sheet metal worker.

But it is this early background, absorbing the feel of the working world, that has given Hamill’s work its distinctive tone.

He learned the writing craft from the ground up, joining the Post in 1960 after a stint in the Navy and studies at the School of Visual Arts, where he hoped to become a graphic designer.

He instead applied his eye for detail to the world at large, particularly Manhattan, and soon came to be identified with the city.

Later, he used those observational and reportorial skills to produce novels such as "Snow in August" and "North River."

Hamill entered journalism at a time when writers were almost expected to be hard-drinking men, Kowars noted.

He chronicled his battle with the bottle, which he won 34 years ago, in the memoir "A Drinking Life."

Kowars interviewed Hamill in July about "North River," focusing on his methods of research for the novel set in the Great Depression, and how his journalistic experience improved his work as a fiction writer.

Even though it takes place several decades in the past, Kowars was struck by how its compassionate portrayal of down-and-out people speaks to contemporary issues.

"He could have been writing about the United States today," Kowars said.

Kowars will interview Hamill again this spring about his non-fiction work, including "News is a Verb" and "Why Sinatra Matters," in preparation for the writer’s Bexley arrival.

While working as a stock broker, Kowars has been seeking out important writers, ranging from James Lee Burke to Andres Dubus III to Horton Foote, and interviewing them for four years.

In addition to immersing himself in the subject’s works, he spends another six to eight hours researching the author for a one-hour interview.

About one-quarter of his interviews are conducted face-to-face, often at writers’ conferences, while others are conducted by phone.

The web site has been attracting attention, and his interview with Foote, who wrote the screenplay for the film version of "To Kill a Mockingbird," was included in a recent reprint of the novel.

Some of his conversations have taken on "an archival feel," Kowars said. He had the last interview with Sidney Sheldon before the novelist and screenwriter’s death last year.

He has posted a new interview "religiously" every week, but admits that this pace has been difficult to maintain.

He is on the verge of deciding whether the web site will become a full-time venture either as a non-profit entity, supported by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts, or as a commercial venture.

He is excited to be a part of the Bexley Community Book Club, which he sees as a unique effort to engage a wide range of readers.

"I think Pete will be impressed," as well, Kowars said.

Information about Pete Hamill’s career is available on the Bexley Community Book Club website,  http://www.bexleyeducationfoundation.org/BookClub.htm.

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.  

Further information, including individual ticket sales information (advance general admission tickets are $25 each), can be obtained by calling the BEF office at 338-2093, or visiting www.bexleyeducationfoundation.org and clicking on the Bexley Community Book Club link.

The Bexley Education Foundation funds programs and projects to ensure educational excellence in the Bexley City Schools, one of the top public school districts in the state and nation.

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