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Subway Baby

Alumnus shares the remarkable origin story of his family in a new children’s book

Posted in: Homepage News, University

Peter Mercurio and Danny Stewart pose on stairwell with Kevin for family photo
Peter Mercurio ’90 (left) and Danny Stewart with Kevin in 2001. Photo courtesy of Peter Mercurio.

Peter Mercurio ’90 recently published his debut children’s book Our Subway Baby, but it’s a story that he’s been living and writing for more than 20 years.

In August 2000, Mercurio’s partner Danny Stewart found and helped rescue an abandoned newborn infant in the Union Square subway station in New York City. The remarkable tale of their journey to adopting that baby, whom they named Kevin, is detailed in Our Subway Baby, illustrated by Leo Espinosa. The book, published in 2020 by Penguin Random House, is a selection on the ALA Rainbow Book List for Young Readers and a Lambda Literary Award finalist. And the head-turning, heartwarming story has brought major media attention, including interviews with the BBC, NBC Nightly News and Today.

Although Mercurio takes himself to task by very honestly admitting his own initial reluctance to becoming a parent, his scrappy and creative nature quickly kicked in as he applied it to parenting with Stewart, a social worker whose patience and understanding grounded the family.

When he suddenly became a parent, Mercurio was 10 years out from Montclair State, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts and Science in Speech and Theater with a concentration in Communications. He was working in advertising and had formed a small theater company that was seeing some off-off-Broadway success. “I wanted to concentrate on becoming a playwright and working on my playwriting skills.”

Peter Mercurio holding Kevin for the first time. Photo courtesy of Peter Mercurio.

“I took a long time to figure out what I wanted to do when I went to Montclair,” Mercurio recalls. “I didn’t declare my major until the second semester of sophomore year, but I had taken enough communication studies and speech and theater classes to know that I was leaning towards that. So I ended up doing Communication Studies. I’m so glad I did. Basically the skills I learned in those classes and from the teachers that I had, I still use today.”

Mercurio also got involved with the radio station, announcing some athletic games, and explored his interest in theater through The Players, a student group.

“I loved my time at Montclair. I was a commuter [from Westwood, New Jersey; Exit 168 on the GSP]. I was holding down a part-time job. I needed to earn money to help with education costs and travel costs and all that.”

Today, Mercurio enjoys a successful freelance career as a presentation, graphic and web designer. He wrote a well-received story about his unconventional family that was published in The New York Times in 2013. And he has crafted a screenplay version about his “Subway Baby,” but says he’d be happy for someone else to shepherd the story to screen – “for the sake of my own sanity.”

Kevin is now in college, and Mercurio says their network of friends and colleagues helped raise him as he and Stewart continued to follow their dreams.

“The associate artistic director with the theater company said to me, ‘You’re never going to get this opportunity again. We’ll always have a chance to put up the show and to produce something else. You have to do this. You have to adopt this baby.’” In the end, the theater company continued even as parenting took center stage.

“When we say, ‘It takes a village,’ we lived it, and we credit our village with helping us raise our son, without a doubt. We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Family photo at scenic overlook in Yosemite Park with El Capitan in the distance
Mercurio (left) and Stewart (right) with their son Kevin (center) in 2019. Photo courtesy of Peter Mercurio.

Story by Staff Writer Mary Barr Mann