Posted Friday, August 07, 2020 - 10:11 AM

Pratt Mourns Legendary Journalist Pete Hamill

Pete Hamill, photographed by Deirdre Hamill, Quest Imagery
Pete Hamill, photographed by Deirdre Hamill, Quest Imagery

Pete Hamill, New York City journalistic icon, literary luminary, and Pratt Legend and alumnus, passed away on August 5, 2020. He was 85.

Hamill grew up in Brooklyn, near Prospect Park. After leaving high school to work at the Brooklyn Navy Yard and then serving in the US Navy, he came to Pratt Institute on the GI Bill. Hamill aspired to be a comic book artist, taking evening classes in advertising design and, in 1957, enrolling in the Art School (as the School of Art was known then) to study illustration. But, he said in the 2012 PBS documentary program Treasures of New York: Pratt Institute, “I changed course after a teacher at Pratt encouraged me to write—seriously.” 

In the documentary, which he hosted, Hamill recalled writing longhand drafts of stories and poems in the Brooklyn campus library, pieces he submitted to Pratt’s literary magazine that became his first published work. “I’ll never forget those first words from my mentor,” Hamill said, referring to that encouraging teacher. “I haven’t put my pen down since.”

With what The New York Times called “a gift for storytelling, a fascination with characters, and a romance with tabloid newspapers,” Hamill went on to become an acclaimed reporter, columnist, and editor. He began his career in newspapers in 1960 at The New York Post and worked with The Daily News, The Saturday Evening Post, and The Village Voice, among other publications, traveling around the world as a journalist but maintaining deep connections to his home city. Hamill also authored numerous novels and other books, including the celebrated memoir A Drinking Life (1994) and the bestselling novel Forever (2003), and he published scores of stories and essays. 

In 1980, Pratt awarded Hamill the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters. At the Institute’s annual Legends scholarship gala in 2013, Pratt honored Hamill with a Legends Award, which recognizes icons of art and design whose work has helped shape the cultural landscape.

In the days before he was celebrated at Legends, Hamill reflected on his brief but significant years at Pratt in an interview with WWD: “The teachers I had at the time gave me the gifts that teachers always give—demand for excellence, a sense of doubt, a sense that you don’t know everything about this planet when you’re 20 years old, that there’s much to learn.” When asked what advice he would offer to Pratt students, Hamill replied: “To be able to see the world as full of riches.”

Read Pete Hamill’s full obituary in The New York Times.