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Writer Colin Broderick Photo by: Nuala Purcell

One Irishman's journey from addict to literary star

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Writer Colin Broderick Photo by: Nuala Purcell

“If you were Irish back then you held a get out of jail for free card. I remember being stopped driving a van one day -- it had no front window, no license, no insurance, no registration, no mirrors, no working lights and a policeman pulled me over.

“He put his hand though the window to shake my hand and started laughing. We did the whole, ‘Where are you from? My parents are from Kerry.’ He told me to get it off the road and let me go. There was a lot more Irish on the police force back then. You could get away with murder back then.”

Writers often leave a string of untidy love affairs behind them, and in this Broderick doesn’t disappoint. Wife number one was Mary Ann, when Broderick was 24.

“Basically we were fighting and killing each other and we decided in our wisdom that perhaps if we got married we wouldn’t fight so much. We went off to the courthouse, got married, went for pizza, and resumed fighting worse than ever. We stayed married for four or five months,” he says.

Wife number two came when he was 26. He married her when he was not drinking, and in the six years they were together they lived together in Riverdale and he finished two books (that were not published).

“But the marriage ended due to boredom. I met a 17-year German girl named Brigitte and that was that,” Broderick says.

Broderick’s third wife, Renata, is also a writer and was working at his local bar where he saw her nightly.

“She was seeing someone else at the time and I just waited it out until that concluded. Eventually I called her up when I got out of prison for my DWI and we married and now we have a daughter, Erica.”

When Broderick got involved with the newly minted Bronx Irish Theatre Company in the 1990s it was an experience that ultimately changed his life.

“People who never acted before, or people who wanted to write, all of them suddenly had a home in the Bronx Irish Theatre Company. It was something to do other than go to a bar. It opened up a new avenue in the community,” he says.

The feeling of being alien even in his own community had been a huge problem for Broderick for years. The “Orangutan” that gives the book its name is a reference to his unease in his own skin, the discomfort that led to the lost years.

“It was the awareness of that which led to drinking and doing more drugs. But it was Chris O’Neill of the Bronx Irish Theatre Company who recognized I was a writer and said so. He gave me a lot of encouragement,” recalls Broderick.

“It was the first time someone I admired in the arts told me you could do this. It was a shot in the arm that kept me going over the years.”

Broderick found his agent and publisher in a memorable way, though an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Another attendee, Chris Campion, author of “Escape from Bellevue,” mentioned his agent in a meeting, and Broderick followed him outside to mention his own book.

You can be the man who discovered Colin Broderick, he told Campion. Two days later Broderick had an agent and a book deal. He was asked to address his childhood in the book but he refused, saying he’d tackle that in the follow up.

“As a writer I have to deal with the fact that my childhood was terrifying. I decided that basically I had sobered up two years ago and I just wasn’t ready emotionally to go beyond that point,” Broderick says.

“I wanted to get through the 20 years of heavy drinking and get that out of the way first so I’d have some ground to stand on before I’d go further.

“I think it’s like doing push ups to get myself in shape for the follow up book that I’m now embarked on (Broderick has already sold the sequel to a Random House). It was way to hot to handle and even now it’s scary.

“Our generation grew up and there hasn’t been a book about our experiences yet because I think we’re still recovering from that whole era of secrecy.”

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