Tale from Staten Island captures interest of Empire Falls author

An intriguing and groundbreaking event Friday evening at Think Tank was the debut of a literary introduction series by The Authors Guild of NYC to promote up-and-coming authors across the country.

These are new writers who will be introduced to the public by established authors such as Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Russo of Portland, who introduced new novelist Eddie Joyce, a native of Staten Island and Brooklyn resident.

The talk turned to Irish-related themes, as Joyce is an ancient Irish surname that originated in County Galway, Ireland; many Joyces immigrated to Portland. Eddie has been to the ould country five times, attended University College Cork and spent many a pleasant day in Galway. However, it appears his Joyce line was native to County Limerick.

books_richardrusso_032615Friday night’s event was very well attended, with writers, aspiring writers, fans of Russo and aficionados of good books in the crowd. Russo introduced Joyce and declared that Joyce’s new book Small Mercies was an incredible debut novel. Joyce’s book is one of the first to take place entirely on Staten Island, the “forgotten borough,” a locality that has such a powerful presence throughout the work that it becomes a major character in the book. This first novel is a compelling narrative, which follows the trials and tribulations of an Irish Italian family on Staten Island who continue to come to grips with the tragic loss of Bobby Amendola, a first responder killed on 9/11.

Joyce, on a “leap of faith,” sent the galley of his book to Russo and other writers. Russo, author of Pulitzer Prize-winner Empire Falls, which takes place in Maine, receives five galleys a week and would love to be able to read all of them, but time limits him, he said. However, he did get a chance to read Joyce’s book and became enthralled from the opening scene.

Russo, who grew up in Gloversville, N.Y., has written many books on the common people, strong people, brave souls who don’t always have a lot of money. Joyce does likewise and Russo could relate immediately to the story and characters. I also could relate at once to the characters, who are for the most part likable and many of them were the types of characters I already knew. Joyce’s characters are typical of the Irish- and Italian-Americans who he grew up with on Staten Island, people he loves. As Joyce states, Staten Island and its inhabitants are “easily marginalized,” compared to the other boroughs of New York. Countless books have been written about Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and even Long Island, but few on Staten Island. The Rock, as the island is affectionately called, is about 60 percent Italian and new waves of emigrants have recently settled there. The people of the island were greatly affected by 9/11; as Joyce said, “You can’t walk into a bar on Staten Island without seeing a 9/11 memorial.” Almost everyone knows someone who died on that horrific day.

On Saturday, Joyce, 39, his wife, Martine, and Russo and his wife, Barbara, visited the Maine Irish Heritage Center on State Street. They were greeted by many of the volunteers at the center, including genealogist Maureen Coyne Norris who explained to them about the Maine Gaeltacht DNA Project and the many resources available at the center.

Both Eddie Joyce and Martine, who is Irish and Polish, are quite interested in their heritage and said they hope to contact the center at a later date. Joyce said in an interview that he was a bartender and a criminal defense attorney for 10 years, occupations that are great for a writer, grist for the mill.

Joyce, who writes for three hours a day and always carries a notebook around with him, strongly suggests that new writers use social media, especially Facebook, which he found to be effective.

On Facebook, Joyce includes a quote from Russo, who stated, "Eddie Joyce's terrific first novel is so American that the story might as well have taken place at the base of the Statue of Liberty."

High praise, indeed, but well deserved.

Matthew Jude Barker has been a genealogical and historical research since 1981 and the author of Maine history articles for many magazines. He was a contributing writer to several books, including They Changed Their Sky, the Irish in Maine (2004), John Ford in Focus (2008) and The Irish of Portland, Maine, A History of Forest City Hibernians (2014). He is currently working on a history of the Portland Irish during the Civil War. To contact him, visit http://www.maineirish.com/cultural-services/genealogy.