I am very happy to share that I have been elected to the Board of Irish American Writers and Artists. As stated on our website, “IAW&A is a non-profit organization dedicated to the celebration of Irish American writers, actors, musicians, filmmakers and artists both past and present. We are an INDEPENDENT and PROGRESSIVE collective dedicated to the principle that by promoting and appreciating creative expression, we can enhance the human condition. Our goal is to highlight the RICH TRADITION of Irish Americans in all manner of artistic endeavor in the United States, from the 19th Century to the present day.”
Please check us out at http://i-am-wa.org
On October 20th, we honored legendary New York writer Pete Hamill with the Eugene O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award. During his exceptional career as a newspaper reporter and columnist, Pete was the only person to serve as editor of both the New York Daily News and the New York Post (though not at the same time — can you imagine!). An award-winning novelist and a best-selling author, he has written several non-fiction books on subjects ranging from Mexican painter Diego Rivera to Frank Sinatra to his beloved Brooklyn. His memoir, “A Drinking Life” remains one of my favorites, as does “North River” a novel set in the West Village during the Great Depression. Loaded with factual details and vivid images only a journalist could summon, the novel practically whips the cold wind up from the North River — as the Hudson was known back then.
Pete has also published essays and articles in Esquire, The New Yorker, Playboy, Rolling Stone and many other publications. As a journalist, he covered wars in Vietnam, Lebanon, Nicaragua, and Northern Ireland, as well as race riots in the U.S and numerous political campaigns.
He also dated Shirley MacClaine and Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
I mean, don’t you want to hang with this guy?
The ceremony was at Rosie O’Grady’s, just blocks away from the famed playwright’s birthplace in Times Square. Alas, these days you can buy a pumpkin spice latte on site.
To introduce the evening, our new President, Larry Kirwan commented on the role of the seanachie and the plight of the 21st century artist in a marketplace of poachers and corporate greed (Kindly think about where “free” music comes from and who benefits from it…).
Vice President Mary Pat Kelly celebrated the contributions of some of the organization’s female contingent.
Jimmy Breslin, Gay Talese, Judy Collins, Brian Dennehy, William Kennedy, Steve Schirripa, Ruben Blades and Pete’s brothers, Denis and Brian Hamill, were all on hand to celebrate.
Dan Barry told a hilarious story about his search for “worthy” scones for Pete and his wife, Fukiko Aoki. Unsurprisingly, Starbucks scones proved sub par.
Shh, don’t tell Eugene O’Neill.
Barry’s “Scones For Pete Hamill” was hilarious and heartfelt, and can be read here:
I was particularly happy when Brian Dennehy showed up. I’d been on the phone with him several times, hoping to work around his shooting schedule (he’s in the new Ed Burns pilot) so that he could read from Pete’s work. The evening’s MC, IAW&A’s Secretary John Kearns, had selected an excerpt from a beautiful piece written by Pete in 1980 for New York Magazine, “Spaldeen Summers.” With his colossal presence, Brian read powerfully — and with an Irish accent. (The story is about growing up in Brooklyn.) I suspect his dialect choice was influenced by too many “in character” moments of ribbing Malachy McCourt.
Speaking of Malachy — or should I say “singing” — after paying tribute to his long friendship with Pete, he led the entire crowd in all five verses of “Will Ye Go Lassie Go.” So sweet, so Irish.
And then Governor Andrew Cuomo appeared out of nowhere. A surprise guest, he headed to the podium to describe meeting Pete in his dad’s kitchen as a young man. Good company indeed! By the way, he has very soft cheeks. (someone got a kiss from the Governor…)
Finally, Mike Lupica presented the award itself. He had told me during cocktail hour that he wouldn’t be saying much — he expected to congratulate Pete and hand him the award. Wouldn’t you know it (after griping that Malachy had stolen his opening number) he gave an elegant tribute: “So this is a good night to tell the truth about Pete Hamill, about his talent and his heart and his generosity and immense gift for friendship; about his love for his city; about his honor; and most of all about his toughness.
“I’ll say something about Pete tonight I once said about our dear mutual friend, the late Elmore Leonard:
“The only thing better than having read Pete Hamill is having known him.”
All photos courtesy of James Higgins.