Former Pitt instructor wins Kirkus Prize for memoir

Brian Broome, a K. Leroy Irvis fellow and former instructor in the writing program in Pitt’s English department, has been awarded the Kirkus Prize for nonfiction for his memoir, “Punch Me Up to the Gods.”

The prizes are awarded annually for fiction, nonfiction and young readers’ literature by Kirkus Reviews, an American book review magazine founded in 1933, and come with a $50,000 cash award.

Broome, 51, earned his master of fine arts degree in nonfiction from Pitt earlier this year, and his book was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on May 18 (see story in July 30 UTimes). “Punch Me Up to the Gods” details Broome’s childhood and teenage years growing up in rural Ohio as a gay, dark-skinned Black man. He also discusses his struggles with addiction and poverty. The book is divided up into sections based on Gwendolyn Brooks’ 1959 poem “We Real Cool.” Broome is currently a 2022 Writer in Residence at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif.

During the online ceremony, one of the nonfiction category judges said they were "dazzled by the book's unique structure … and by its self-lacerating, but ultimately hopeful insight."

There were 454 books eligible for the nonfiction prize — those who had received a starred review in Kirkus. Broome said at the ceremony that when his editor called to tell him he was a finalist, he didn’t believe her. “And I still don’t believe her. I don’t believe any of this is happening.”

After his name was announced as the winner, Broome said, “Wow. I do not know what to say. I’m sitting here by myself because I thought there was no way in heck that this would be happening to me.” He also thanked the other authors in the category, his agent, editor, mother and friends and family. “I think I probably need to make a few phone calls now.”

Also nominated for the nonfiction award were Kristen Radtke for “Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness”; Tiya Miles’ “All That She Carried: The Journey of Ashley’s Sack, a Black Family Keepsake;” Dara Horn’s “People Love Dead Jews: Reports From a Haunted Present”; Katherine E. Standefer’s “Lightning Flowers: My Journey to Uncover the Cost of Saving a Life”; and Juan Villoro’s “Horizontal Vertigo: A City Called Mexico,” translated by Alfred MacAdam.

Pitt alum and former University employee Sharon Flake also was nominated for a Kirkus Prize for “The Life I’m In,” a sister story to her award-winning debut young adult novel “The Skin I’m In.” She was one of six authors nominated in the young readers’ category. The prize went to Christina Soontornvat for “All Thirteen: The Incredible Cave Rescue of the Thai Boys' Soccer Team.”

— Susan Jones


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