Inaugural Jimmy Breslin writing awards to be handed out Thursday

Jimmy Breslin, iconic New York columnist, died in 2017 at age 88.
Jimmy Breslin, iconic New York columnist, died in 2017 at age 88. Photo Credit: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin

In a city filled with millions of stories, there were few people who told them better than the legendary columnist Jimmy Breslin.

One year after his death, Breslin’s sons, Kevin and James, have launched a nonfiction writing contest dedicated to finding new voices in the city’s high schools.

“I think people will respect young people a lot more if they took a moment to read what they write and hear what they are thinking,” said Kevin Breslin, a filmmaker who lives in Rockaway. “Contrary to many who dismiss the young writers, [Jimmy Breslin] was loaded with optimism.”

Robert De Niro is slated to hand out some of the 14 awards to high school seniors and one teacher during a special ceremony at the city Department of Education’s offices at the Tweed Courthouse on Thursday.

Kevin Breslin said the award — created with the Fund for Public Schools — is also a response to recent attacks on the press.

“We know news and respect it,” he said. “It’s not a fake business.”

Jimmy Breslin’s storied career as an author and columnist included jobs at the New York Daily News and Newsday. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1986.

One of his most famous columns for The New York Herald Tribune in 1963 focused on the man tasked with digging the grave for President John F. Kennedy.

Kevin Breslin said he received almost 200 entries for the first Jimmy and Rosemary Breslin American Writer Award.

He said the award is co-named for his late mother Rosemary, who died in 1981, because she helped drive his father to assignments and edited and phoned in his copy during the early days of his career.

Breslin later married former City Councilwoman and activist Ronnie Eldridge, and they were together until his death in 2017.

Michael Daly from The Daily Beast, Dan Barry of The New York Times and MSNBC’s Mike Barnicle are also expected to present awards at the ceremony.

“Jimmy Breslin loved the city of New York and knew its schoolchildren were its future,” Daly said.

The contest, open to 12th-grade students in city public schools, calls for New York City-centric writing of 800 words or less.

“The city is a quickly changing cultural experience,” said Kevin Breslin. “These kids bring all the information and struggle to their stories.”