Speechwriter, novelist, essayist, and now memoirist Peter Quinn returns to Irish Stew to share tales from his home borough of New York City and beyond, captured in his new book, Cross Bronx: A Writing Life.
Join us as Peter spins stories from his rise up through Irish American middle-class respectability in New York’s northernmost borough, The Bronx, which Quinn describes as “a small-scale Yugoslavia. Ethnic enclaves were interspersed amid areas in which, though physically mingled; groups lived psychically apart. We thought of ourselves in terms of neighborhoods and parishes.”
Quinn charts his shift from collaborative but anonymous work as a speechwriter at the highest echelons of political and corporate America, to his solitary, but no longer anonymous work writing Banished Children of Eve, Hour of the Cat, and other novels, and finally to the inward-looking, self-reflecting, warts-and-all odyssey of writing his memoir…a gift to his family and to us.
We drive along Peter Quinn’s personal Cross Bronx Expressway, though the twists and turns of his Irish American life, his family dynamics, his pull towards history, his dedication to the written word, his perceptions of the Irish in America, a few salty anecdotes on New York notables, and though it all, his on-again, off-again, ultimately eternally “on” love story with “The Girl from Hot Dog Beach.”
Cross Bronx: A Writing Life is available at Fordham University Press and all major booksellers, including Amazon.
Peter Quinn: Novelist & Historian
Peter Quinn, a former speechwriter for two New York governors, chief speechwriter for Time, as well as editorial director for Time Warner, has found an avocation in writing about his Irish heritage. In his first novel, Banished Children of Eve, he explores the after-effects of the vast Irish immigration into New York City following the potato famine of 1847, specifically in the draft riots of 1863. Rebelling against conscription of the poor into the Union Army, the Irish targeted African Americans, an even more oppressed group whom they saw as competition for low-wage jobs. After four days of rioting, 119 were confirmed dead. Quinn explained the tensions leading to the riots in an interview with Ken Emerson in Newsday: "You could either hire a substitute … or you could pay 300 dollars to get out of that round of the draft. Those alternatives were not accessible to working people or the poor—and ninety-nine percent of the Irish were in that class. It was a race riot because class and race in American have always been intertwined, but it was also class warfare." Further explaining the impact of the Civil War on Irish immigrants, Quinn concluded, "The war started inflation, the most punishing thing the poor can suffer. And the draft seemed to add to this. However central the struggle to end slavery is to American history, to a working person on the Lower East Side in the 1860s it was pretty distant."