Ireland House Oral History Collection

Thomas Kelly

Author photo of Tom Kelly from the jacket cover of his book, <em>Empire Rising</em>, taken by Kate Lacey.


14 December 2005

1 hour, 36 minutes

Preferred Citation:

Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University

Biographical Note:

Tom Kelly was born in 1961 and grew up in the blue-collar neighborhoods of Inwood, Upper Manhattan, and New Milford, New Jersey. His father worked on the freight yards of the Bronx, and his mother worked as a secretary.

Tom Kelly first gravitated towards construction work at the age of fifteen and continued in the field until he was twenty-five. He attended Fordham University, New York City’s Jesuit college, where he studied political economy, and ultimately received a master’s degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in 1988. Kelly worked his way through Fordham as a sandhog helping to build Water Tunnel Three, adding the third connection between New York City and its upstate water supply. He also worked in other construction jobs around the city such as roadwork, excavation, demolition, and pouring concrete on high-rises. The experience gave Kelly an inside look at the construction industry and its corruption. Kelly’s experience contributed to the research for his novels, Payback and The Rackets.

Through the unions Kelly got involved in politics. He worked as the director of advance for Mayor David Dinkins’ re-election campaign in 1993. Dinkins, a Democrat, was the first African-American mayor in New York City history. He was defeated in 1993 by Rudolph Guiliani. Kelly also worked for the Teamsters as a political operative and ran a non-profit organization that provided services for laid-off workers (union and non-union) during the federal takeover of the Teamsters.

Tom Kelly has received critical acclaim for all three of his novels: Payback, The Rackets and Empire Rising, and is currently working on a television show in Los Angeles.


Photo Credit:

  1. Author photo of Tom Kelly from the jacket cover of his book, Empire Rising, taken by Kate Lacey.