Sunday, January 30, 2011

Author Event: Pete Hamill

Forever: A NovelAuthor Pete Hamill is the child of immigrants from Northern Ireland whose parents arrived in New York City in the late 1920's.  He was raised in Brooklyn in an ethnically diverse neighborhood among a variety of immigrant families.  Immigration and New York  City feature in many of his books including Snow in August and Forever: A Novel.  I have enjoyed both of these books and was excited to see he would be speaking at the Tenement Museum on the topic of immigration and New York City in December.

Hamill began the night by talking about why his parents came to New York and his experience growing up in Brooklyn in a working class, immigrant neighborhood.  He spoke about the community of immigrants and how their differences in religion and culture mattered little- they were united as new arrivals to this country and did not toss ethnic slurs at each other as many of their parents had endured in the countries from which they emigrated.

Snow in AugustHis talk then moved into his experience living in Mexico and what it has taught him about the Mexican people. This exposure to the Mexican culture coupled with his own immigrant history has obviously influenced his point of view on the immigration debate that rages across the country.  It was interesting to hear him link the current immigrant experience with that of those featured in the museum, his parents, my parents and the current immigrants from places such as Mexico, Eastern Europe and South America.  Much of that debate hinges on  the difference between legal and illegal immigration but I thought Hamill made good points about the humanity of these immigrants and their ability to contribute to our economy. 

Perhaps my favorite part of his talk was when he said "I hate the phrase the American Dream.  A Dream is unwilled . . . . I prefer the American vision . . . you want to  do something with the only life you have and you marshall education, will, ambition . . . everything you need to achieve this vision".  I think this beautifully summarizes the American but also the immigrant experience.

It was a pleasure to hear the author speak  - I felt as if I was sitting across the table from him at dinner.  He has an easy way about him but speaks with a wealth of facts and authority on a subject he both knows a lot about but also cares about deeply.  You can listen to the talk in its entirety on the Tenement Museum website in the Tenement Talks section. 

JoAnn of Lakeside Musing also posted about a lecture by Pete Hamill which she attended and her reactions to his  North River: A Novel and the audiobook Downtown: My Manhattan written and read by Hamill. 

As part of my Immigrant Stories Challenge, I will feature a post on the last day of each month which focuses on immigrant literature or the immigrant experience. 


  1. I'm sorry I missed this talk, thanks for sharing this. I love the "American Vision" comment, such a keen observation. I finished Barbara Kingsolver's " The Lacuna" for your Immigrant Stories Challenge and will post my review soon. I loved it!

  2. Great point about the term "dream"; it definitely implies an ease of transition, and those who risk it all to come to America for a better life certainly aren't laying back and letting it all come to them.

  3. Pete Hamill spoke at the Gifford Lecture Series in Syracuse last season and was fantastic! I wasn't familiar with his work before he appeared on the roster, but read North River and Downtown: My Manhattan before hearing him speak. Both were on my best of list for 2009. My book club decided he was the speaker we would most like to have dinner with.

  4. I like the American Vision comment you chose, too. I have yet to read anything by Hamill, but was looking at Forever earlier today and thought it sounded interesting.

  5. It's wonderful that you were able about imigration. I was disappointed that I couldn't get to it. I really enjoy his writing and wanted to see and hear what he had to say for especially because I like his writing & immigration intrests me on several levels. Thank you for posting about it, I was so happy to see that you had!

    I think what Hamill said about the phrase "American Dream" - it's intriguing & something to think about. I loved his book "Snow in August" but haven't found that many people I know have read it.

  6. Fascinating write-up - well done! Love his point about a dream being unwilled. Never really thought about that, but that's very true. I'm intrigued - never read him before, but adding his novels to my list.

  7. Pete Hamil sounds like an interesting character himself. That’s an excellent point about dream vs. vision. Thanks for sharing his talk with us.

  8. Sounds like a great event. I love what he said about a dream versus a vision. Neat :-)