Colin Broderick's new book, The Writing Irish of New York, tells the tales of a talented pool of New York writers who share Celtic blood. In this anthology, pages are split between titans like Oscar Wilde and F. Scott Fitzgerald and lesser-known writers and journalists who spent their careers in the literary trenches. Legendary journalist Jimmy Breslin is decidedly in the latter camp.
Breslin was born in Queens, NY, and his formative years were spent in an unstable, single parent home. It was during this time that he found his voice, developing an off-the-grid style of reporting that gained him a reputation of championing the stories of ordinary, everyday people. Breslin later went on to use his much coveted column to report on stories of working class Americans.
One of Breslin's most famous pieces was published in the New York Herald Tribune, 55 years ago, on November 26th, 1963, days after the assassination of John F Kennedy. While journalists from all across the world descended upon the capital to report on the loss of America's innocence, Breslin went off the beaten path and befriended a gravedigger at Arlington National Cemetery. He spent his time with Clifton Pollard, a 42-year-old WWII Veteran who was earning a mere $3.01 an hour to prepare the final resting place of his fellow serviceman, the President.
By detailing the simplicity of Pollard's life– the attention and care he took to complete such a harrowing task and the deep honor he felt while doing so–Breslin memorialized JFK in a way no other journalist was able to do at the time. He shied from sensationalizing the tragedy and let the sadness be conveyed through an everyday American, someone the country could truly relate to.
The Writing Irish Of New York by Colin Broderick
It can be hard to put that kind of grief into words, to paint sadness over text, but Breslin did just this. He saw a story where no one else was looking. He saw the necessity in detailing the grief of a nation through the eyes of a man that felt a sense of privilege in serving his Commander-in-Chief one last time. Through Breslin, a gravedigger's tale became one of the most beautiful and moving pieces of journalism ever published, at a time when every other reporter in the world was covering the same beat.
Never far from a story, Breslin was also present when tragedy struck again at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in June of 68'. America lost another great leader, and the journalist was on the ground, living through the emotion and making sure the story was documented. He later found himself surrounded by controversy again, when the notorious murder, The Son Of Sam, wrote him a handwritten letter which was delivered to his desk, taunting Breslin and complimenting him on his reporting of the killer's crimes. Breslin fought his way to the heart of a story yet again on a cold December night in New York City. Up against a tight deadline and covering what was no doubt the story of the year, Breslin managed to speak to the police officers who answered the 911 call on the night John Lennon was murdered. In his column about the tragedy, he humanized the beloved Beatle, focusing less on the loss of legend and more on the tragedy of yet another person killed on the tough streets of New York City.
Breslin's body of work is a biography of the everyday. He reported on some of the most significant crimes of the last century, and never failed to delve into the real issues at the heart of each tragedy. Breslin earns a place in The Writing Irish Of New York not because of his celtic blood, but for the bravery with which wrote.