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Pittsburgh author Brian Broome's debut book wins big literary prize

Brian Broom
Andy Johanson
Brian Broome

Pittsburgh-based author Brian Broome’s debut book has won the prestigious Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction.

In “Punch Me Up To The Gods: A Memoir,” Broome tells his story of growing up Black and gay in small-town Ohio, as well as of his young-adult years in Pittsburgh, in the 1990s. Broome, now 50, also interrogates toxic masculinity as well as his own alcoholism and drug abuse.

On Thursday, it was announced that the critically acclaimed book beat out some 450 eligible nonfiction works for the prize, including five fellow finalists.

The Kirkus judges called the book “powerfully vulnerable and bleakly funny,” and praised its unique structure (it’s built around excerpts from Gwendolyn Brooks’ classic poem “We Real Cool”) and its self-lacerating but ultimately hopeful insight.

The Kirkus Prize is awarded by the magazine Kirkus Reviews. The prize comes with a cash award of $50,000.

The prize also includes awards in fiction and books for young readers. Another Pittsburgh author, Sharon G. Flake, was also a finalist this year for her young-adult novel “The Life I’m In.”

The Kirkus Prize has been awarded since 2014. Previous nonfiction winners have included Ta-Nehisi Coates, in 2015, for “Between The World and Me,” and Susan Faludi, in 2016, for “In The Darkroom.”

The announcement came just months after another Pittsburgh-based author, Deesha Philyaw, won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her own debut, the short-story collection "The Secret Lives of Church Ladies."

On Thursday's live YouTube broadcast of the virtual Kirkus awards ceremony, Broome appeared genuinely shocked when it was announced he'd won.

“Are you kidding me? Wow,” he said, before thanking his fellow nonfiction finalists, Kirkus Reviews, his agent, his editor, and his mother, among others.

Broome's May 2021 interview with WESA about the book is here.