The room was captivated by the man’s voice, a strong Brooklyn bass reading from the podium.
The voice that filled the Park Slope Library on Thursday night belonged to Pete Hamill, the Park Slope-born journalist and writer.
Hamill gave a reading in the on Sixth Avenue from his upcoming book, “The Christmas Kid: And Other Brooklyn Stories.” The volume, which is due out Oct. 30, is a collection of stories about his native borough.
Starting his career as a reporter in 1960 for The New York Post, Hamill has written for countless newspapers and magazines. He was a foreign correspondent for the Saturday Evening Post in Europe, has covered wars in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Lebanon, has served as the editor-in-chief for The New York Daily News, has written for New York magazine, The New Yorker, Esquire, Playboy, Rolling Stone and many more. He is also the author of over twenty books.
The crowd was rapt by Hamill’s words, which painted a vivid nostalgia, a love letter to the borough of Brooklyn from a time where you could find the Dodgers, longshoremen on the waterfront and kids playing in the street.
Many of the guests said that Hamill was the perfect author to do a reading for the library’s opening night.
“Pete is Brooklyn,” Susan Zugaib put simply, who has lived in Park Slope for 22 years. “Pete’s Brooklyn, that’s what he is to me.”
Another woman said Hamill’s prose was transformative, that it brought her to the old days of Brooklyn.
“I was born in the Bronx and when I came to Brooklyn the gangs were ruling it. I missed the glory days Pete Hamill was talking about. But now, the glory days are back and everyone wants to be in Brooklyn,” Joan Emerson said, who has lived in Park Slope for 42 years. “To hear Hamill talk about those times before I was here, it fills out the story. It makes me know what I’ve missed.”
After he answered a few questions from the audience, Hamill gave Patch a few minutes of his time to talk about Park Slope.
“I took the train here, so I could go from Manhattan to Jay Street to transfer and then get off from the last car and know I’m on Seventh Avenue blindfolded,” Hamill joked, explaining how he enjoys taking the subway to his old neighborhood.
“Obviously there’s changes to Park Slope, but the architecture is the same. The neighborhood didn’t have burnouts like Brownsville. Essentially everything is the same as it was,” Hamill said. “And for a writer it’s gold.”
Hamill spoke about gentrification and how the jobs along the waterfront eventually moved to New Jersey, bringing the longshoremen along with them. He said Park Slope didn’t change because of a wave of the supposed “ferocious pack of Yuppies.”
But, Hamill said, the biggest factor of change and what really made people leave was heroin.
“It put locks on doors that never had locks before,” Hamill said, explaining that the drug first took root in the 1950s.
But, despite the exodus and the changes in demographic, Park Slope stands.
“In a way, no matter what people say why it changed, it’s all still here,” he said.
When asked how to get to know a city, Hamill said that it is important for writers to walk.
“To get to know a city start at the waterfront, the city is here because of the harbor and the two rivers feeding it. You can see the growth. Walk from the Queens border to Coney Island. You can’t do it in one day, but you can get a sense of why it’s here,” Hamill said. “Or to get to know Brooklyn, get off at Grand Army plaza and walk to Brownsville, take the major boulevards and get to know the life around it, and hope you get lost.”