October 22, 2009
2 hours, 40 minutes, 37 seconds
Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University
Pete Hamill (b. Brooklyn, New York, 1935) is a novelist, columnist, and New York Times bestselling author. The son of Irish immigrants from Belfast, His first job was working as a newspaper delivery boy in Brooklyn, and he read newspapers and books voraciously from an early age. He exhibited a talent for drawing as a boy, and his original ambition was to be a cartoonist. After serving in the Navy during the Korean war, he studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He switched to writing while studying art at Mexico City College on the G.I. Bill in the 1960s. Hamill started working as a reporter at the New York Post in 1959, and has written columns and articles for numerous publications, including the New York Times and the Village Voice. He lives in Manhattan.
Excerpt No. 1
Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover
Transcription of Excerpt No. 1
PH: Later, when her mother died fairly early, fairly young, and she was eighteen in Belfast, so it would have been 1928, she decides that she wants to go back to America. And she came, in 1929, she landed, as I always say, with perfect Irish timing on the day the stock market crashed. You know, [laughs] she gets off at Castle Garden and the people downtown are all running around like lunatics. She didn’t know what had happened, is there a war, or what?
LA: Of course, the stock market had crashed…
PH: So, she went to work then as a domestic for a family–
JW: Is this in, in Brooklyn?
PH: Yeah, in Brooklyn, what they would call now a well-off family.… That’s again why you don’t accept stereotypes; they were wonderful people. I was ten, no eleven, right after the war… they knew my mother. They kept in touch with my mother, they knew it was hard times, and they sent the collected works of Mark Twain to our house for Christmas. So every one of us, including my poor sister, read Mark Twain, and I still have a couple of the volumes. I don’t have the set, it was scattered after a while. But that’s the kind of accidents that happen, you know, so when you hear the stereotype about a rich guy in a top hat, you’re not rooting for him to slip on a banana peel. You say, wait a minute, there’s rich guys, and there’s rich guys. Which was a great thing to know.
Excerpt No. 2
Hamill discusses the writing process of retrieving memoriesDisc 2, 22:16–24:00
Transcription of Excerpt No. 2
PH: The checkable details have to be right. Even in A Drinking Life, you know, if you’re writing memoir, one of the things that is amazingly provocative to memory is music. So when I was writing that I couldn’t remember certain songs, what year they were in, so I got the billboard list of hit songs, off the internet. No, it was before the internet, I got it from some book I had, reference material, and got for the years I was looking at most carefully, you know, 1943, 44, 45, I got the songs, the list of the top ten, the top twenty billboard songs, then went up to colony music on Broadway and got a lot of oldies stuff, bought some albums, and then made tapes of those songs. Not the best songs, but the most common songs, stupid songs.
JW: The ones you’d hear on the radio…
PH: Yeah, if I was talking to my father about the Dodgers and the radio was on, I’d be hearing… some song, and if I was driving in a car somewhere I’d play the tape, keeping a yellow pad on the seat beside me, and you’d hear certain music and whole rooms began to open up. You knew the pattern on the linoleum, you knew, you could smell what was coming out of the cellar!
Excerpt No. 3
Hamill discusses what he considers his Identity to beDisc 3 6:06–7:31
Transcription of Excerpt No. 3
JW: Going off of that, using the word identity, would you identify yourself as a New Yorker? If you had to use one word, a catchphrase for yourself.
PH: Yeah, I’m a New Yorker. Which means, that I’m proudly and profoundly Irish-American, but I’m also Jewish-American. I’m African-American. I’m Chinese-American. I’m very much Mexican-American, because of my over fifty years of going back and forth to Mexico. So New York is an odd case… [but] I feel comfortable there. I’m not wary, I don’t feel menace. I feel, this is my place to live.
- Joe Weston(JW)
- Linda Dowling Almeida (LA)