Yes I Said Yes I Will Yes: Brian Broome ’17

Brian Broome

Graduation Year
2017
Major
Creative Writing

“I think sometimes older people make the mistake of thinking that young people don’t have anything worthwhile to say, and that is so untrue,” he says. “I also learned a lot about my own sexism, the way in which I was viewing women in my life and women’s role in society. That’s a lot of what I learned at Chatham. Hopefully I’m still learning how to look at it.”

Brian Broome ’17 has a couple of tricks up his sleeve.

The first is to say “yes” to as much as possible. The second will be revealed at the end of the story. 

It might be said that the “yes” that launched Broome from growing up in Warren, Ohio, to being an established—some might say celebrated—writer with a book deal from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is one he said to himself, back in high school.  

“As a gay man, I was like ‘I can’t stay here,’” Broome says. “And I was in the marching band, and we marched in a Steelers game. I remember being like ‘wow, big city, I’m going to come here and live,’ and that’s what made my decision.” 

“You know,” Broome tells me, “it’s funny when you find out what you’re for. I spent a lot of years wondering, what am I even for? And then all of a sudden you get lucky and you find out – oh, this is what I’ve been doing this whole time. I was becoming a writer! Or whatever.”

For Broome, this looked like working in restaurants and offices around Pittsburgh. It also looked like developing a substance abuse problem. He said yes to rehab, where he had a roommate who snored.

“He was keeping me up, so I just started writing stories from my life, about why I think I ended up in rehab. When I got out, I was terrified that I was going to start using again, so I stayed home all the time, and started writing on Facebook,” says Broome.  

Broome’s Facebook writings began to gain a wide following, and at a friend’s urging, he submitted—for the very first time—a piece for publication. It was published. I ask him how that felt. 

“I didn’t really know what it meant!” Broome says. “I didn’t know there were people submitting stuff and submitting stuff and it never gets published. I mean, I know that feeling now (laughs) but I didn’t know writing was a thing, really. I just kept saying yes to things. People would ask me to write something, and I would write it and it would go so far, and I would write another thing. It just kept going well in my direction, so I kept writing.”

Broome went to CCAC for writing at what he calls his “advanced age,” where, he says, he felt out of place. “I just knew all the 18-year-olds were laughing at me. I lived to get high for a lot of my life, and now I was like okay, now what am I going to do?” 

His advisor suggested that he consider Chatham University. “I asked her why,” says Broome, “and she said that I would stand out there, because of my demographic—middle-aged black man—and that that could help get my writing noticed.” 

Broome said yes, and enrolled in the Bachelor of Fine Arts program.

“I think sometimes older people make the mistake of thinking that young people don’t have anything worthwhile to say, and that is so untrue,” he says. “I also learned a lot about my own sexism, the way in which I was viewing women in my life and women’s role in society. That’s a lot of what I learned at Chatham. Hopefully I’m still learning how to look at it.” 

Meanwhile, his writing was being published and winning accolades. He published a chapbook with Creative Nonfiction magazine, won “Best of the Net” for an essay, and had a story published with The Guardian.

After graduating from Chatham, Broome said yes to graduate school: he became the K. Leroy Irvis Fellow at the University of Pittsburgh’s Master of Fine Arts program, where he currently teaches Introduction to Nonfiction and Journalism.

“I really love it,” he says. “I like the energy of the classroom; I like hearing their ideas and coming up with crazy writing prompts and encouraging their creativity—there’s nothing about it that I don’t like. Teaching makes me a better writer, and writing makes me a better teacher.”

Broome works primarily in non-fiction. His forthcoming book, called Punch Me Up to the Gods, is a memoir about being black and male and gay in America and about the intersections of those identities with the idea of masculinity. But when a friend contacted him about the possibility of writing a screenplay for a film, you know what he said.

Writing for the screen was a learning curve. “I wrote it first as a story for the page. Then the director read it and said ‘This is a good story, but this is not how people talk. People don’t give long soliloquies in real life; they talk back and forth.’ So I had to learn to consolidate paragraphs into sentences. To translate a monologue into a look, or a gesture. I got my story down to dialogue and gestures, and told the story that way. I learned the very real difference between writing for the screen and writing for the page. That’s a very valuable lesson.”

Broome has also learned from writing a television pilot. “You write something and they shoot it; you write something and they shoot it. I would see almost immediately whether what I wrote worked. And what’s really cool about it is that when you write it, you hear it a certain way in your head, but then the actor gives it their own interpretation. The collaborative aspect of writing, and of art in general, is the best.”

Broome’s writing is going places, thanks, in part, to the Port Authority of Allegheny County bus system. Witness the second trick up his sleeve: 

“I write on the bus, all the time,” he tells me. “I just like the sensation of motion; it calms me; I don’t have anxiety; I can just relax and just write. It’s my secret, but I want to you to print it. I’m giving that piece of advice out to you as an exclusive. Write on the bus. It is great.”