Brian Broome: The East Hills, inequality, and creative nonfiction

Brian Broome is a senior Creative Writing major at Chatham
Photo by: Teri Bradford

by: Teri Bradford, Editor-in-Chief

Since the end of August, you may have seen Pittsburghers carrying pocket-sized pink books with a Port Authority Transit (PAT) bus printed on the cover. The title of the book is “79,” and the author is Chatham’s own Brian Broome.
Though he only began writing a few years ago, Broome has seen success from the beginning. Starting with his very first written piece being published, Broome has since been published several times and is set to graduate in December as a creative writing major. His most recent piece, “79,” is issue 11 of Creative Nonfiction’s (CNF) magazine’s True Story series.
Broome’s “79” is a series of seven short stories, one for every stop the 79 PAT bus makes. Each is named after one of the seven deadly sins and is used to highlight the antics Broome finds himself in as a resident of Pittsburgh’s East Hills neighborhood and rider of the 79 PAT bus.
“I started out in a pretty good neighborhood, Squirrel Hill. I ended up falling down, because of my own addictions, to living in the East Hills, which is a notorious sort of poor and [high crime area],” Broome said in an interview about his work that has been growing in popularity. “That was just the way I viewed the neighborhood coming from the perspective of someone who thinks he’s better than the neighborhood which I have since learned I am not. I’m just as ghetto as everybody else.”
Throughout “79” Broome uses his surroundings, neighbors, and encounters with strangers to explore issues of gentrification, income inequality, and misguided views of what it means to live in a “bad neighborhood.” He finds it necessary to express how marginalized the area is due to being neglected and only receiving attention when a crime occurs.
Broome also draws attention to the segregation between the affluent neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, and the communities that people with low or no income get pushed into, something not uncommon in our country.
“People don’t just live there because they made poor choices,” Broome said. “People live there because they don’t have any money and that’s a deliberate design in America.”
Regardless of the media portrayal of East Hills, Broome says the neighborhood treats him well and provides endless content to create dynamic narratives.
“Living in the East Hills is interesting. Living in a good neighborhood is boring. Nothing happens. I mean, I guess that’s why people move to them,” Broome said. “You meet, in my opinion, a better class of people in terms of personalities. More interesting people. There are families in my neighborhood, there are prostitutes, there are drug addicts. Just the other day some dude was running away from the cops, and he dropped a full bag of M&Ms on my doorstep. I was like “it’s manna from heaven!” I mean that doesn’t happen in a good neighborhood. That’s why I chose to write about the East Hills.”
Though East Hills holds a special place in Broome’s heart, he feels that he has said all he has to say on the subject. While he’ll still write about social issues, he’s moving on.
“I don’t want to write specifically about the East Hills,” Broome said. “But [some characters might] come to life in different stories that are from the East Hills.”
Leaving behind the narrative of Pittsburgh neighborhoods, Broome has recently sent chapters for a new book about Black masculinity and gayness to a publisher.
“It’s going to be 10 or 12 short stories on the subject, so I’m hoping that that will get to see the light of day,” Broome said. “It’s inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks’ poem “We Real Cool.” I have been inspired by other Black writers and poets who have been looking at this topic, so hopefully, I’ll be able to get that published, and we’ll see what’s next.”
Broome admits that he still has room to improve as a writer. He has self-proclaimed that he’s terrible at poetry, struggles with navigating how to write from perspectives other than his own, and finding self-discipline in his writing process. Through his journey and struggles as a storyteller, he shares sound advice for other aspiring writers.
“It’s a process. You have to keep whittling away at what you’ve written, and you have to keep writing,” Broome said. “Sitting down to write something is hard because you don’t know if it’s any good or it’s bad or if it’s a waste of your time. But it’s definitely worth your time to keep writing.”
Broome also advises that writers be wary of critique they receive from others.
“Don’t ever, ever listen to other writers telling you how to write,” Broome said. “All they want is to write something you’ve written the way they want it written. “
Broome is currently wrapping up his last semester at Chatham and is applying for MFA programs. He aspires to teach English and creative writing, and wants to live by Toni Morrison’s infamous quote: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
True Story, Issue #11: “79” by Brian Broome can be ordered online through the Creative Nonfiction website.