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Pete Hamill and the Magic of Words

Pete Hamill received his first byline as a reporter for the New York Post in 1960. The story was about a Brooklyn man whose family had been evicted after he lost his job.

"I went there with a photographer and interviewed him. I could see the humiliation in the eyes of his kids. I wrote the story and got a byline, but what was important was that the readers did what had to be done. They offered him jobs, places to live, clothes for his kids, food for his family. It proved that words are magic."

And so he has believed throughout his almost 50 year career as a professional journalist and through his nearly lifelong love of libraries that words are indeed magical.

"I think the idea that words are magic might have come from Captain Marvel -- where a guy like Billy Batson (ironically, a news reporter) could change into a superhero by saying 'shazam,'" Hamill said.

The Friends of the Central Library couldn't have made a better choice for their Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series speaker on Dec. 9 than Hamill, a true friend to libraries.

Calling Andrew Carnegie "my favorite millionaire because he built 1600 libraries," Hamill devoted much of his hour-long talk to the influence libraries have had on his career as a writer.

Introduced by Sean Kirst, an award-winning columnist of no small stature himself, Hamill avoided references to his own achievements, concentrating on the influences in his life that brought that success about.

Life began in Brooklyn

Hamill, born in 1935, is the oldest of seven children of parents who emigrated to Brooklyn from Belfast, Northern Ireland. "My mother first took me to a library. My first favorite stories were about Babar. Imagine, an elephant in a green suit," he said.

"The key to my life was libraries. They are temples of human wisdom; they hold the story of human folly with all its endless variations; they tell of kindness, they tell of human cruelty -- there are many more sinners than saints -- I couldn't get enough of it."

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