A Drinking Life Summary Essay

For the musician, see Peter Hammill.

Pete Hamill (born June 24, 1935) is an American journalist, novelist, essayist, editor and educator. Widely traveled and having written on a broad range of topics, he is perhaps best known for his career as a New York City journalist, as "the author of columns that sought to capture the particular flavors of New York City's politics and sports and the particular pathos of its crime."[1] Hamill was a columnist and editor for the New York Post and The New York Daily News.


The eldest of seven children of Catholic immigrants from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Pete Hamill was born in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn.[2] His father, Billy Hamill, lost a leg as the result of an injury in a semi-pro soccer game in Brooklyn.[3] Hamill's mother, Anne Devlin, a high school graduate in Belfast, arrived in New York on the day the stock market crashed in 1929.[4] Billy Hamill met Anne Devlin in 1933 and they married the following year.[5] Billy Hamill had jobs as a grocery clerk, in a war plant, and later in a factory producing lighting fixtures. Anne Hamill was employed in Wanamaker's department store, and also worked as a domestic, a nurses' aide, and a cashier in the RKO movie chain.[6] His brother Denis would also grow up to become a columnist for the Daily News.

Hamill attended Holy Name of Jesus grammar school[7] and delivered the Brooklyn Daily Eagle when he was 11.[8] In 1949, Hamill attended the prestigious Regis High School in Manhattan, but left school when he was 15 to work as an apprentice sheet metal worker in the Brooklyn Navy Yard; 59 years later, in June 2010, Regis awarded him an honorary diploma.[9] Inspired especially by the work of Milton Caniff, he was set on becoming a comic book artist.[10] Hamill attended night classes at the School of Visual Arts (then called the Cartoonists and Illustrators School),[11] with the goal of becoming a painter.[12] He also took courses at Pratt Institute, which awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1980. [13][14] In the fall of 1952, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. After his discharge, in 1956-57, he was a student at Mexico City College on the G.I. Bill.[15] Hamill has also lived in Spain, Ireland, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Rome, Los Angeles, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

A friend of Robert F. Kennedy, Hamill helped persuade the senator to run for the United States presidency, then worked for the campaign and covered it as a journalist. He was one of four men who disarmed Sirhan Sirhan of his gun in the aftermath of the Robert F. Kennedy assassination.[16]


In 1958, while serving as the art director for a Greek-language newspaper the Atlantis, Hamill talked his way into writing his first piece about his friend, Puerto Rican professional boxer José Torres, then a neophyte middleweight and Olympic champion.[17] This led Hamill to pursue writing a few letters to the editor for the New York Post of which two were printed. Hamill eventually attracted enough attention and was hired as a reporter for the New York Post in 1960.[18] The 1962–63 New York City newspaper strike led Hamill to start writing magazine articles. By the fall of 1963 he was a correspondent for the Saturday Evening Post, stationed in Europe.[19] Hamill spent six months in Barcelona and five months in Dublin, and traveled Europe interviewing actors, movie directors, and authors, as well as ordinary citizens. In August 1964 he returned to New York, reported on the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, and was briefly employed as a feature writer at the New York Herald Tribune. He began writing a column for the New York Post in late 1965, and by the end of that year was reporting from Vietnam.[20]

Over the course of nearly forty years Hamill worked at the Post, the New York Daily News, the Village Voice, and New York Newsday. He served briefly as editor of the Post, and later as editor-in-chief-of the Daily News. His resignation from the latter position after eight months prompted a letter of protest signed by more than a hundred of the paper's writers.[21] Hamill's more extensive journalistic pieces have been published in New York, The New Yorker, Esquire, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and other periodicals. He has written about wars in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Lebanon and Northern Ireland,[22] and reported on America's urban riots of the 1960s. Hamill wrote about the New York underclass and racial division, most notably in an essay for Esquire magazine entitled Breaking the Silence.[23] He also wrote about boxing, baseball, art, and contemporary music, winning a Grammy Award in 1975 for the liner notes to Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.[24]

Two collections of his selected journalism have been published: Irrational Ravings and Piecework (1996). For the Library of America he edited two volumes of the journalism of A.J. Liebling. In 1998, he published an extended essay on contemporary journalism titled News is a Verb: Journalism at the End of the Twentieth Century.


Hamill has also written fiction, producing ten novels and two collections of short stories. His first novel, a thriller called A Killing for Christ, about a plot to assassinate the Pope on Easter Sunday in Rome, was published in 1968. Drawing on his youth in Brooklyn he next wrote a semi-autobiographical novel called The Gift. Most of his fiction is set in New York City, including Snow in August (1997), Forever (2003), North River (2007), and Tabloid City (2011).

Hamill has published more than 100 short stories in newspapers, including those that were part of a series called The Eight Million in the New York Post; in the Daily News, his stories ran under the title Tales of New York. He has published two volumes of short stories: The Invisible City: A New York Sketchbook (1980) and Tokyo Sketches (1992).


Hamill's 1994 memoir, A Drinking Life, chronicled his journey from childhood into his thirties, his embrace of drinking and the decision to abandon it.[25] According to Hamill, Frank McCourt was inspired by the book to complete his own memoir, Angela's Ashes.[26] Hamill's memoir Downtown: My Manhattan includes his reporting for the New York Daily News on the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, at which he was present.[27]

His book on the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera was inspired by time spent in Mexico City in 1957 and his presence at Rivera's funeral.[28] In Tools as Art (1995), Hamill surveys the Hechinger Collection and the incorporation of utilitarian objects for aesthetic ends. His biographical essay on the artist was featured in Underground Together: The Art and Life of Harvey Dinnerstein (2008), whose work, like Hamill's, often focuses on the people and cultural life of Brooklyn.

Hamill's interest in photography has informed recent essays in nonfiction. New York: City of Islands (2007), celebrates the photography of Jake Rajs. New York Exposed: Photographs from the Daily News (2001) contains an extended essay about the New York Daily News and its role in American photojournalism. In his introduction to Mexico: The Revolution and Beyond (2003), Hamill writes about Agustin Victor Casasola, whose photographs recorded the Revolution of 1910–1920. In his introduction to A Living Lens: Photographs of Jewish Life from the Pages of the Forward (2007), Hamill evokes the heyday of American Yiddish journalism. His text for The Times Square Gym (1996) enhances John Goodman's photographs of prizefighters, and his introduction to Garden of Dreams: Madison Square Garden (2004) offers a context for the sports photography of George Kalinski. Hamill's Irish heritage informs the text for The Irish Face in America (2004), as seen by the photographer Jim Smith.

Hamill has also written about comic strips, of which he is a collector.[29] Among his writings on the subject are an introduction to Terry and the Pirates: Volume Two by Milton Caniff (2007), and an introductory text for a revised version of Al Hirschfeld's The Speakeasies of 1932 (2003). He also contributed an introduction to Jerry Robinson: Ambassador of Comics (2010).

Television and film[edit]

Hamill has written a handful of teleplays and screenplays, including adaptations of his own novels, and had a few minor film roles, usually playing a generic "reporter", or himself. He has appeared as a commentator in several documentaries, including Ric Burns' New York: A Documentary Film, and Ken Burns' Prohibition.


Hamill received the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists in 2005. In 2010 Hamill received an Honorary Doctor of Letters Degree from St. John's University.[30][31] In 2010 he was presented the Louis Auchincloss Prize from the Museum of the City of New York.[32] In 2014 Hamill received the George Polk Career Award. [33]

Hamill is a Distinguished Writer in Residence at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University.[34]

Hamill won a Grammy Award for "Best Liner Notes" for his essay on the back of Bob Dylan's album Blood on the Tracks in 1975. [35]


  • A Killing for Christ (1968)
  • Irrational Ravings (1971, nonfiction)
  • The Gift (1973)
  • Dirty Laundry (1978)
  • Flesh and Blood (1977)
  • The Deadly Piece (1979)
  • The Invisible City : Short Stories (1980, nonfiction)
  • The Guns of Heaven (1984)
  • Loving Women (1989)
  • Tokyo Sketches : Short Stories (1992)
  • A Drinking Life : A Memoir (1995, nonfiction)
  • Piecework (1996, nonfiction)
  • Snow in August (1998)
  • News is a Verb (1998, nonfiction)
  • Why Sinatra Matters (1999, nonfiction)
  • Diego Rivera (1999, nonfiction)
  • Forever (2003)
  • Downtown : My Manhattan (2004, nonfiction)
  • North River (2007)
  • Tabloid City (2011)


External links[edit]

  1. ^"Pete Hamill, a City Voice, To Head The Daily News". The New York Times. November 27, 1996. 
  2. ^[1]Archived May 17, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  3. ^Alex Witchel (1994-02-24). "AT HOME WITH: Pete Hamill; On Background, ''The New York Times'', February 24, 1994". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  4. ^Hamill, Pete. ''Downtown: my Manhattan'', page 4. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  5. ^[2]Archived May 17, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^[3]Archived May 17, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^Hamill, Pete. ''A Drinking Life: a Memoir''. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  8. ^[4]Archived May 17, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. ^"Legendary journalist Pete Hamill to graduate high school finally after Regis grants degree, ''New York Daily News'', June 25, 2010". Articles.nydailynews.com. 2010-06-25. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  10. ^"Pete Hamill's Cold, Sober Memoir Of His Drinking Days While working in the Navy Yard, ''Chicago Tribune, January 23, 1994". Articles.chicagotribune.com. 1994-01-23. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  11. ^Hamill. ''A Drinking Life: a Memoir''. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  12. ^"Pete Hamill's career forged N.Y. tough". Pittsburgh: Post-gazette.com. 2003-01-25. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  13. ^https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/18/nyregion/after-30-years-pete-hamill-returns-to-brooklyn.html. Retrieved 2017-08-11. 
  14. ^http://www.petehamill.com/biography.html. Retrieved 2017-08-11. 
  15. ^"Faculty profile, NYU". Journalism.nyu.edu. 2006-05-14. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  16. ^Eppridge, Bill. "Pete Hamill Remembers Robert F. Kennedy, ''NPR''". Npr.org. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  17. ^Kimball, George (June 4, 2011). "Bright Light, Big City". The Irish Times. Retrieved 15 March 2016. 
  18. ^"NYU". Journalism.nyu.edu. 2006-05-14. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  19. ^Hamill, ''A Drinking Life''. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  20. ^[5]Archived November 19, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  21. ^Frank Bruni (1997-09-05). "After 8 Months, Pete Hamill Leaves The Daily News, ''The New York Times'', September 5, 1997". New York City: New York Times. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  22. ^"Pete Hamill Named News Editor, ''Daily News'', November 27, 1996". Articles.nydailynews.com. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  23. ^Lee, Spike; Jones, Lisa. ''Do the right thing: a Spike Lee joint'', p. 71. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  24. ^One On 1: Author, Longtime Newspaperman Pete Hamill NY1 interview, March 8, 2004Archived October 1, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  25. ^Alex Witchel (1994-02-24). "AT HOME WITH: Pete Hamill; On Background, ''The New York Times'', February 24, 1994". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  26. ^[6]Archived May 17, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  27. ^"Pete Hamill's career forged N.Y. tough". Post-gazette.com. 2003-01-25. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  28. ^"Post-Gazette". Post-gazette.com. 2003-01-25. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  29. ^Alex Witchel (1994-02-24). "''New York Times". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  30. ^"Pete Hamill receives Honorary Doctorate Degree. ''Columnists.com''". Columnists.com. 2014-04-18. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  31. ^St. John's
  32. ^"One Day, Web Journalists Will Get Real Money. ''HuffPost'', January 22, 2011". Huffingtonpost.com. 2010-11-22. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  33. ^http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/journalists-worked-snowden-return-u-s-receive-award-article-1.1753859
  34. ^"NYU". As.nyu.edu. Retrieved 2014-04-24. 
  35. ^https://www.grammy.com/nominees/search?artist=pete+hamill&field_nominee_work_value=&year=1975&genre=All

At 58, Mr. Hamill seems to have mellowed. His maverick, testosterone-fueled columns at The Post, The Village Voice and The New York Daily News evoked a New York where neckties were for loosening and subways smelled of sweat. He covered Vietnam, Lebanon, Northern Ireland and Nicaragua, wrote fiction and idolized Hemingway (who else?). A glass of whisky in his hand completed the picture. The Lion's Head, the writer's bar in the Village, was his home base.

But for the last seven years, he has been married to the Japanese journalist Fukiko Aoki and has two real homes -- this one, near the meat-packing district, and another upstate in Ulster County. Here in the Village, he is surrounded by his paintings and drawings (as a teen-ager he wanted to be a cartoonist and before becoming a journalist earned his living as a graphic designer) and books, books, books, floor to ceiling, wall to wall.

Ms. Aoki writes a column about American culture for Bunshun, a Japanese weekly magazine. The marriage is successful, Mr. Hamill says, because she works even harder than he does. The two met in Tokyo when she interviewed him. During the interview there was an earthquake. "The earth moved, what can I tell you?" he says.

On this sunny morning, with their black labrador, Gabo, lured to the kitchen by the promise of a sesame bagel, Mr. Hamill settles on the couch. Change slides from his pocket onto the cushions, unnoticed. He eats pastry and smokes cigarettes and his face is creased in all kinds of directions. This is a man from a bygone era, before bodies required preservation like works of art. But he's far from unattractive. He says he has had romances with Shirley Maclaine and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, but turns a little pale at the prospect of a rehash. "I'm a happily married man," he says, reaching for a cigarette. "Only a cad would talk about his life that way."

He's more comfortable talking about men. "I started to write this book when people I knew from the Lion's Head, people I had grown up with in the business, started to die at ages like 46," he says. "Everyone knew I had stopped drinking and always wanted to know how I did it. I had written a piece about it for New York magazine years ago, but it was like a memo. And I thought, I really should try to figure this out.

"The tone was the hardest to establish. I didn't want to be preachy or judgmental about people who aren't as tough or as smart. To be clear about what actually happened and be patient enough to allow it to develop and not get it all in the lead like a newspaper story."

He draws on a Vantage. "Cigarettes are much harder to kick than whisky," he says. "You can smoke and work, but you can't drink and work.

"In the literature of drinking, like 'Under the Volcano,' 'The Iceman Cometh' and all over Fitzgerald, there are only drastic or extreme cases. One of the things I was determined to do was not make it worse than it was. I never ended up with the D.T.'s, shaking and seeing little men. I just wanted to write about a condition that had its own form of damage. One of the things I learned is that the functioning drinker causes more damage than the alkie in the doorway.

"I don't remember as much about the 1960's as I do when I was 12. No matter what trick I use, I can't reconstruct a great night, what the jokes were, why we laughed. When I was writing, I used triggers, tapes of hit songs of the 40's and 50's, and as I would listen to them, whole months would come back. Rooms, linoleum, textures, pictures. It would all flow out of Bing Crosby singing 'Don't Fence Me In.' When I hear the Doors or Aretha, I think of Vietnam, because that's what was playing in all those bars in Saigon. When I hear parts of 'Hair' I remember the moratoriums. But I remember the things I covered, rather than the life I lived."

Mr. Hamill's father, Billy, a clerk, began taking his eldest son to the bars when he was 8. A stellar soccer player, the elder Mr. Hamill lost his leg to gangrene after it was broken in a game and he had to wait a full day in a hospital before receiving treatment. He drank. His son drank. When he quit drinking he did it alone; he never went to Alcoholics Anonymous.

"It was hard to go to A.A.," he says. "Especially the Brooklyn part of me. I just had to deal with it myself. If you're the oldest in a large family, you tend to do everything yourself, particularly if you are the first American. You begin a habit or pattern that makes it easy to reject other help. Also, in A.A. there was a religious element I couldn't accept. It was irrelevant to what I needed to be sober. Now I think there's an A.A. for atheists. A.A.A. or something." He smiles. "They even fix flats."

He still goes to the Lion's Head, he says, but he doesn't stand at the bar. "It's hard for me. And I don't want the other guys to feel judged. I don't get aggravated with drunks as much as bored. Their conversation is like bad writing. Everything is in italics."

One of the details Mr. Hamill remembered only when he began to write his book was how as a child he was influenced by the magic potions his comic book heroes would drink to become invincible. It sent a powerful message. So did what Mr. Hamill calls "the Irish thing," meaning the accepted wisdom that anyone who was too smart, who succeeded too much, became guilty of the sin of pride, having the nerve to be better than everyone else. It is not coincidence that after Mr. Hamill was admitted to an exclusive parochial school in Manhattan, he dropped out. Or that after earning a high school equivalency degree in the Navy, he enrolled in college but never graduated. Compounding "the Irish thing" was his father's torment over his leg and everything that might have been.

"Clearly, my mother is the hero of the book," he says. "My father did shape me. He didn't drive because he had one leg, and for years I never drove. I had no mobility. The self-inflicted wound has an echo from things you don't even consciously understand.

"But it was not him alone. My mother was also there. Last December, I was given an award by the National Cartoonist Society as an amateur cartoonist, and they found three letters I had written to Milton Caniff in 1946 and 1947 I didn't know existed. The kid who wrote them was so straight: 'I want to be a cartoonist, can you give me some tips.' None of my father's Brooklyn class stuff, being poor. The green ceiling, as the Irish call it, seemed to some part of me irrelevant.

"My mother had made me think I could talk to Milton Caniff or the President of the United States as easily as a haberdasher. That's what it meant to be American, what pulled people from other countries. To have a sense of the possible."

Mr. Hamill's mother, Anne, is 83 and suffers from Parkinson's disease. She lives in a nursing home in Brooklyn. His father died in 1986. His brother Tom is an engineer for the New York State Power Authority; his only sister, Kathleen, was until recently an editor for Navy publications. Brian is a still photographer for movies; John is a speechwriter at the New York Housing Authority; Denis is a columnist at The Daily News, and Joe is a television producer.

From his first marriage, to Ramona Negron, Mr. Hamill has two grown daughters, Adriene Wellesley, a writer in Las Vegas, Nev., and Deirdre Hamill, a photographer for The Phoenix Gazette. Mrs. Wellesley was indicted on Friday on five counts of child abuse with substantial bodily harm and one count of murder in the death of her infant son in 1991. Her husband, Charles Wellesley, was also indicted in the death. Mr. Hamill says lawyers have advised him not to comment on the case.

Though his children prefer living out West, Mr. Hamill will not leave New York. He has lived and worked in Mexico, as a student and as a journalist, enough in his lifetime to call it his second country, but his home is here.

"More than anything, New York interests me," he says. "The New York I evoke in the 40's and 50's was a great big optimistic city. I felt I could grow up to be a cartoonist, play left field for the Dodgers, even in spite of the Irish thing. The older group was used to disappointment, but the kids had beaten Hitler. We could do anything. I don't feel that out on Pitkin Avenue now."

He gestures toward the window. "The reason I like this neighborhood is that I see people physically working. Seeing a guy with his cleaver reminds me so much of that New York I miss. People stand differently when they have work. I go to Coney Island every summer. Nathan's is more or less the same, though the rides are all different. But the light is the same. Nobody can ruin that."

Rather than return to writing columns, Mr. Hamill wants to concentrate on books. His next is a novel, and a collection of his columns and articles is also to be published. But in here, those books will have to fight for space. There is barely room for his easel and desk.

He shows off his collection of books from the old Bomba the Jungle Boy series, bracketed by Yeats and Joyce. There are sections on journalism, crime, Japan, Russia, New York, Georges Simenon, Mexico, Italy and Renaissance history. "If I could move Florence to the Mexican Riviera and get Joe's Stone Crab from Miami in the same town, I'd be happy," he says.

The wall over his desk is filled with faces. Masks from Mexico, mug shots of gangsters. The infamous kiss photo, when Mr. Hirshfeld planted a big smacker on Mr. Hamill, who looked as horrified as everyone else felt, hangs in his bathroom. "I call it the Kiss of the Spider Man," he says. "When I got home that day, poor Fukiko said, 'Does this mean that what he has, you have?' "

He also shows a few pictures of his mother. "She had a tremendous memory," he says. "It's sad for me now to see her. She always believed in America. She worked as a cashier at the RKO chain and wouldn't let my brothers into the theater before each one got a library card and read. Grand Army Plaza Library was so far away from where we lived, but it had so much more than the branch. The sign on the wall said, 'Here are enshrined the longings of great hearts.' And I looked at that sign and said, 'Let me be a great heart, please, whatever it is.' " He throws his arms up in a praying motion.

"Sometimes," he says, "words even on the sides of buildings have meanings that people underestimate."

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