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."