Growing up in Trumbull County helped make Brian Broome the writer he is today.
It’s probably not something the tourist board will brag about in their marketing campaign.
In his memoirs, “Strike me to the gods”, the 1988 LaBrae High School graduate recounts a difficult childhood where he felt ostracized by his white classmates in Braceville/Warren Township due to his dark skin and poor family. He felt just as out of place in the African-American community as a boy who was attracted to other boys and unable to understand how to be black and cool, which other boys seemed to understand innately. And he lived in fear of an abusive father determined to toughen him up for what the future held for him as a black man.
Broome recounts the blatant and subtle racism and homophobia he encountered growing up and how it fueled a self-loathing in adulthood that led to drug and alcohol abuse and seeking a serious relationship that found only fleeting sexual encounters.
Nearly 35 years after fleeing Ohio for Pittsburgh, Broome is now approaching 10 years of sobriety, and his memoir has won the Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction (and the accompanying $50,000 check).
The man who dropped out of the University of Akron weeks into freshman year because his roommates didn’t want to live with a gay man now has a master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh and recently completed a stint as a writer in residence at St. Mary’s College in California.
He is a columnist for the Washington Post; he has a second book in the works and he is involved in television and film projects which he is not allowed to discuss.
Broome credited his mother for fostering his love of reading and, now, writing.
“She didn’t read to us, but she always had a book” he said. “She loved Agatha Christie mysteries, she loved Dean Koontz and she read a lot of fiction. Sometimes I would pick up her books and read them.
“She presented me with a very thick old volume of Grimm’s fairy tales, those fairy tales where none ever ended happily, and I loved them so much. I was reading them over and over again… I then started reading and loving the stories, how they were crafted and took you away from your reality, because in many ways my reality wasn’t that great.
But if reading let him escape, it also became one more thing that distinguished him.
“Because of the way boys were expected to behave then and still today, several of my peers told me that walking around with a book wasn’t cool, that I looked like a sissy when I was writing in my little diary. We talk to you about things when you’re a child, we talk to you about who you are in order to fit in better, so I practically stopped reading and I completely stopped writing.
Broome didn’t start writing again until he was in rehab, and he only started writing because his roommate was snoring. “like a John Deere tractor” and unable to sleep.
It was then that he began writing about his childhood, his experiences in the bathhouses and gay clubs of Pittsburgh, and how racism was still prevalent in the urban steel town. and ethnically more diverse, it just took different forms.
After leaving rehab, he decided to go back to college — not to be a writer, just to get a better job than the ones he had before, which ranged from working in a call center to getting paid. to enable students to train to be medical assistants perform hernia exams and prostate checks.
“I started at Community College of Allegheny County and had a really great counselor there. Her name was Evelyn Kitchens-Stephens, a black woman who said to me at one point, ‘Your handwriting is actually pretty good, maybe you should.” I thought, no, I wasn’t going to do that, but she kept encouraging me. So I just started writing and other people noticed it.
“I used to write a lot on Facebook, and a friend told me I should try to get my writing published. I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know anyone could make a living doing that.
The first thing he sent was published. He wasn’t paid, but he was a published writer. He decided to go back to community college and talk about her success at Kitchens-Stephens only to find out she had passed away.
“It was very upsetting” said Broome. “At that point I decided he was one of the few people in my life who told me I was good at something, so I’m going to keep writing to honor him.”
Broome was accepted into the University of Pittsburgh’s graduate writing program and started doing open-mic readings, and he got an agent at one of those readings.
“She asked, ‘What are you writing?’ I told him about the stories I had written in rehab and had been working on ever since and those stories are ultimately what became the book.
Since “Kick Me to the Gods” was published last fall, the book has received rave reviews and is nominated for a 2022 Ohioana Award for Best Book About Ohio or an Ohioan. But Broome also knew that the stories he had been working on for years, which he told at open-mic events in Pittsburgh, would now have a much wider audience and could be read by his family members, by those with whom he grew up and perhaps even by his tormentors.
“Some people are definitely not happy with my performances,” he said. “I also have the added bonus of being old, and a lot of those people are dead. The day before the book came out, I thought about calling the publisher and saying, ‘You can’t just undo it all?’ »
“It hasn’t been easy, but at the same time I feel a little less burdened with the past. When I teach non-fiction workshops, I tell students, ‘If you’re going to tell the truth, it kind of has a price’… When you publish memoirs, that’s not all. There are people who will probably never talk to me again, and that’s fine. These are people I don’t deserve to be told about again.
While it doesn’t show Trumbull County at its best, Broome still returns to the area to visit family, and the book makes it clear that he believes the attitudes he encountered growing up exist everywhere. . They may be more on the surface in his hometown.
“If you’re different growing up from everyone around you, wherever you are, you get a lot of teasing, a lot of bullying, and it leaves you with a feeling of disdain for where you grew up.” said Broome. “My relationship with Warren and Braceville and Newton Falls is shaped by that. I know they weren’t bad places per se, but it was a bad time to be different, and I think it still is to some degree.
“It doesn’t go well in the book because of the anger I still have at times. At the same time, a lot of really wonderful things happened there, a lot of really formative things. Without that experience, I wouldn’t wouldn’t be who I am today.