CLIPBOARD

This article originally appeared in the Japanese edition of Newsweek (Aug 10/17 2021)

One year after the death of U.S. author Pete Hamill, his wife, Fukiko Aoki, writes about Hamill's voice and his search for the truth

One year has passed since the death of Pete Hamill, the famous American writer and journalist, who sadly passed away on August 5 last year. His wife, journalist Fukiko Aoki, writes from his beloved New York City about the "truth" he continued to search for right to the end, as well as his legacy that endures today.


I first met Pete on March 6, 1984, during his first visit to Japan, when I interviewed him for a series of articles that were published in Morokun!, a monthly magazine. His short story collection, New York Sketchbook (1982, translated into Japanese by Kawade Shobo Shinsha) had caught the attention of the public, and his autobiographical novel, Brooklyn Story (1983, Chikuma Shobo) had just been published, but Pete had become well-known in Japan as the writer of the movie The Yellow Handkerchief of Happiness (1977).

He had been writing for tabloid newspapers since the late 1960s, starting with the New York Post. I was curious: what drove him to write columns for newspapers as well as writing fiction such as short stories and autobiographical novels? When I met Pete at the hotel, I first asked him about the Vietnam War.

He answered that he had spent a total of 10 months as a correspondent in 1966 and 1967. He smiled and said "War is like a drug." He continued "But I didn't want to be what you call a war-oriented writer - in other words, I didn't want to turn war into a commodity. You know, no matter how much I wrote about combat, in the end it was repetitive - it was always just writing about combat."

In Vietnam, Pete said he always thought of himself as a mere traveler. He said that he always felt guilty because he had a place to go back to whenever he wanted. "I would wake up in the morning, cover a battle where there would be soldiers killed and wounded, and then I would come back to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in the evening for a big dinner at the hotel. Every day the same - I couldn't stand it."

Believing that there was more important war reporting to be done on the U.S. mainland, Pete returned home and continued to write anti-war columns. He sharply condemned the Johnson administration's policies on Vietnam and was a strong supporter of the anti-war demonstrations in the streets. At the same time, he began to put together profiles of the people of New York, the city where he was born.

He wrote of his life as a 17 year-old fresh out of the navy and of his return to Brooklyn. Pete stated that it seemed to him that this was a "truth" that only he could write about, rather than penning a news report about where and what battles had taken place in Vietnam.

Immediately after my interview with Pete, I was offered a job at the Japanese edition of Newsweek, and that fall I transferred to the New York bureau. Three years later, on May 23, 1987, Pete and I were married. In retrospect, Pete was going through a difficult period at the time, but in November of the following year, he returned to his old position as a columnist for the Post, and overjoyed at being back in his element, he began tapping away at the keyboard with gusto.

Pete wrote about everything from Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's visit to the United Nations, to the Palestinian issue, to the plight of the homeless at Christmas. He wrote three times a week without fail, and went out to listen to the stories told by the people on the street and would nod along to their complaints. Pete used to say, "Up to that point, most of my columns had been written at my desk, but me and [Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist] Jimmy Breslin just started going out and writing on the street."

It was the Irish writer Colum McCann who said, "Pete Hamill brought literature into journalism." Pete's columns depicted everything - the buzz on the street that day, how a strong wind mixed with sleet would blow around the city, and the sighs of the people bearing witness to all of this.

Celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary in May 2007

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