Heywood Broun Essay - Critical Essays

Broun, Heywood


Heywood Broun 1888-1939

American journalist, essayist, biographer, short story writer, novelist, and dramatist.

Broun was a noted post-World War I era newspaper columnist who won esteem both for his witty, insightful editorials and for his efforts as a leader of the American labor movement in 1930s. An outspoken liberal commentator, Broun confronted a number of controversial issues in his columns, including anti-Semitism, the Red Scare, the Sacco-Vanzetti trial, and the rights of workers. He additionally formed the New York Newspaper Guild and was subsequently elected president of the first national union of journalists, the American Newspaper Guild. Although he wrote several novels and a play, his most enduring works remain his journalistic pieces published under the title of his column in the New York World as It Seems to Me: 1925-35 (1935).

Biographical Information

Broun was born in Brooklyn to Henriette Brose Broun and Heywood Cox Broun, a successful New York businessman. He was privately educated at the Horace Mann School, and in 1906 entered Harvard University. Relatively uninterested in academics while at Harvard, Broun attended for four years, but did not graduate because of his failure to pass an elementary French course. After departing from college, Broun became a journalist with the New York Morning Telegraph and for the next two years worked as a reporter until his request for a fifty percent raise resulted in his firing. He found employment in 1911 as a copyreader for the New York Tribune, soon making his way to reporter and sports writer. In 1917, he joined General John J. Pershing in Paris as a war correspondent. After the war, Broun began a daily column for the Tribune featuring his opinions and literary reviews called “Books and Things.” The success of the column allowed him to move to the New York World, where he was offered even greater editorial freedom in his column “It Seems to Me.” In 1927 Broun became involved in the controversy over the infamous Sacco-Vanzetti trial and execution; he argued in print that the two Italian immigrants and noted anarchists had been wrongfully accused. When Broun refused to keep quiet on the subject, he was suspended by his editor. Following the Sacco-Vanzetti incident, Broun became increasingly involved with social causes. He ran for Congress as a member of the Socialist Party in 1930, but was defeated. In 1933 he helped organize the American Newspaper Guild, and remained politically active in support of labor for the remainder of his life. Broun's political views, however, frequently proved a burden to his editors at the World-Telegram. He left the newspaper in 1939 and in December of that year contracted pneumonia and died.

Major Works

Broun's first published volume, The A.E.F.: With General Pershing and the American Forces (1918), contains his writing as a war correspondent with the American Expeditionary Force in France. Broun's most well-known works offer his witty and journalistic descriptions of the everyday. Pieces of Hate and Other Enthusiasms (1922) is such a collection, and offers acute observations on people, society, and the ephemera of Broun's own personal life. Likewise, It Seems to Me: 1925-1935 reprints his popular New York World column, featuring outspoken editorials, including “Sacco and Vanzetti” and “The Piece That Got Me Fired.” In Christians Only: A Study in Prejudice (1931) Broun confronts the issue of anti-Semitism, analyzing and condemning the practice of ethnic intolerance in America. The Collected Edition of Heywood Broun (1941), edited by Broun's son, offers a thirty-year retrospective of Broun's career as a journalist. In addition to his reprinted newspaper columns and essays, Broun published a number of novels. Among them, The Boy Grew Older (1922) contains humorous observations on the growth of children and families. His collaborative effort with Margaret Leech, the novel Anthony Comstock, Roundsman of the Lord (1927), proved his most popularly successful work of fiction.

Critical Reception

Broun's fictional writings, though admired by some of his contemporaries, have generally failed to attract the attention of modern critics, and are typically considered works of passing interest. Since his death, commentators have principally remembered Broun as an outspoken liberal, an esteemed newspaper columnist, and a dedicated labor leader. Congenial by reputation in his personal life, Broun earned a reputation as a knowledgeable but intractable writer, unwilling to compromise his views on any subject. Joseph J. McGowan has written of him, “he saw everything far and near, artists, authors, college-men, sports, politicians, laborers, judges, leaders of nations, family life, and especially life in the Broun family.”

Principal Works

The A.E.F.: With General Pershing and the American Forces (essays) 1918

Seeing Things at Night (essays) 1921

The Boy Grew Older (novel) 1922

Pieces of Hate and Other Enthusiasms (essays) 1922

The Sun Field (novel) 1923

Sitting on the World (essays) 1924

Gandle Follows His Nose (novel) 1926

A Shepherd (short story) 1926

Anthony Comstock, Roundsman of the Lord [with Margaret Leech] (biography) 1927

Christians Only: A Study in Prejudice [with George Britt] (nonfiction) 1931

Shoot the Works (drama) 1931

It Seems to Me: 1925-1935 (essays) 1935

Collected Edition of Heywood Broun (essays) 1941


Carl Van Doren (review date 1922)

SOURCE: A review of Pieces of Hate, in The Nation, New York, Vol. 115, No. 2988, October 11, 1922, p. 377.

[In the following review, Van Doren admires Broun's Pieces of Hate.]

To characterize Heywood Broun's Pieces of Hate I quote a sentence from his essay on George Jean Nathan: “A man may remain pretty much to himself as long as he chooses to keep his touch light and avoid research.” These two things Mr. Broun does in a manner which I find always entertaining no matter how much I may disagree with him as regards particular verdicts. He is himself on every occasion, with an instinct for being cool when he is most personal which proves that he takes his ground without self-consciousness or effort. He has a large gusto for books, for sport, for intelligence, for fun, for human decency, without hard creeds about any of them. He has the courage of his gusto and knows how to write in the easy tone of speech—sometimes rather profoundly, often rather trivially, more often very acutely, and never uninterestingly.

H. L. Mencken (review date 1931)

SOURCE: A review of Christians Only, in The American Mercury, Vol. XXIII, No. 89, May, 1931, pp. 123-26.

[In the following review of Christians Only, Mencken considers anti-Semitism and ethnic prejudice in 1930s America.]

What part [coauthor George] Britt had in the confection of this book [Christians Only] I can't make out. He appears on the title page as the collaborator of the Hon. Mr. Broun, but throughout the text the latter speaks in the first person, and much of the matter presented is derived from his personal experiences. Can it be that, in his old age, Broun is turning illiterate, and so, like Henry Ford, needs a ghost-writer? If so, the...

(The entire section is 2339 words.)

Ralph D. Casey (review date 1936)

SOURCE: A review of It Seems to Me: 1925-1935, in Journalism Quarterly, Vol. XIII, No. 1, March, 1936, pp. 109-10.

[In the following review, Casey favorably assesses the socially conscious essays of It Seems to Me.]

Broun's liberal outlook pervades this collection of his column “pieces” [It Seems To Me], revealing the World-Telegram commentator preoccupied with social questions. He is quick to side with the under-dog when economic struggle breaks loose, as everybody knows. A long way has been traversed by the columnist since his virtuosity charmed the sports fans and there is an essential note of seriousness in his present-day work, but...

(The entire section is 328 words.)

Bruce Minton and John Stuart (essay date 1937)

SOURCE: “Heywood Broun: It Seemed to Him,” in Men Who Lead Labor, Modern Age Books, Inc., 1937, pp. 115-42.

[In the following essay, Minton and Stuart discuss Broun's efforts as a leader of the progressive labor movement in the United States.]

The publishers greeted the formation of the American Newspaper Guild with sad shakes of their heads, predicting that newswriters could never successfully be organized. As Roy Howard, president of the Scripps-Howard chain of newspapers, complained to his employee, Heywood Broun, “You're doing a very silly and evil thing in trying to get reporters into a union. That would rob them of their initiative and take the romance and...

(The entire section is 9855 words.)

J. L. O'Sullivan (review date 1941)

SOURCE: A review of Collected Edition of Heywood Broun, in Journalism Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 2, June, 1941, pp. 205-06.

[In the following review, O'Sullivan praises the Collected Edition of Heywood Broun.]

That all is grist that comes to the journalist's mill was never better demonstrated than in the collected works of Heywood Broun. Early in his career the output dealt largely with objective reporting of sports, the theater, and the first World War. In his maturity, subjects were found in the important political and social questions of the day—politics, Facism and Nazism, democracy, education, labor and a hundred other topics dealing with world...

(The entire section is 532 words.)

Joseph J. McGowan (review date 1941)

SOURCE: A review of Collected Edition of Heywood Broun, in Thought, Vol. XVI, No. 63, December, 1941, pp. 765-66.

[In the following review, McGowan comments on Broun's perspicacity and spirituality.]

Collected Edition of Heywood Broun, in general terms, may be called a diary: his diary and a diary of public events interesting to a columnist. The autobiographical throb beats strongly in every one of the essay-like sections. Small effort and one can hear Broun telling what he has to say, see him changing under various moods. What he had to say may not be too profound; yet as a member of the human race (though always a troubadour in spirit), Broun was dead...

(The entire section is 338 words.)

Bennett Cerf (essay date 1942)

SOURCE: “Heywood Broun,” in The Saturday Review Gallery, edited by Jerome Beatty, Jr. and others, Simon and Schuster, 1959, pp. 308-13.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1942, Cerf presents a number of anecdotes from Broun's life and career as a journalist.]

Heywood Broun has been dead now for three full years. The multitude of friends who loved and admired him from the bottom of their hearts find it hard to believe that it's as long as that since they saw him shambling into his favorite haunts, sloppily attired, tardy for appointments, but welcomed with shouts of joy wherever he appeared. His name bobs up in conversations as frequently as though he...

(The entire section is 2345 words.)

Frank Scully (essay date 1943)

SOURCE: “Broun,” in Rogues' Gallery: Profiles of My Eminent Contemporaries, Murray & Gee, Inc., 1943, pp. 125-34.

[In the following essay, Scully offers an anecdotal remembrance of Broun.]

The last thing I saw Heywood Broun do, was at a dinner in his honor in Los Angeles in the summer of 1939. More than five hundred persons attended—including a mayor called Fletcher Bowron, who said he used to be a newspaper man, himself.

Broun was talking about the American Newspaper Guild, which he founded; in connection with it, he was telling of Upton Sinclair's Brass Check—an indictment of journalism and, in Broun's opinion, true during the...

(The entire section is 2223 words.)

Morris L. Ernst (essay date 1945)

SOURCE: “Heywood Broun,” in The Best Is Yet …, Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1945, pp. 77-82.

[In the following essay, Ernst recalls his friendship with Broun.]

This evening I heard Quentin Reynolds do his great GI Joe broadcast after the landing in France. Margaret said Quent learned much from Heywood Broun. And Quent would be the first to admit it. Quent didn't know him many years but he knew what Heywood Broun was about. Heywood had few friends and Quent was one of them.

At high school, more than forty years ago, Heywood and I first met. We were bound together then through Heywood's aunt, Belle Baker, my English instructor and one of my...

(The entire section is 1688 words.)

Dale Kramer (essay date 1949)

SOURCE: “A Columnist Is Born,” in Heywood Broun: A Biographical Portrait, Current Books, Inc., 1949, pp. 91-102.

[In the following excerpt from his biography of Broun, Kramer recounts the development of Broun's career as a newspaper columnist.]

One day in the spring of 1919 Broun was dawdling about the high-ceilinged living room of his old-fashioned apartment at Seventh Avenue and 55th Street. Even the fact that Rudyard Kipling had once dwelt in the same rooms was no boon to inspiration. Neither for the moment was a small Shetland terrier named Michael, who was, as usual, angry about something.

Finally Broun sat down, rolled a sheet of copy paper...

(The entire section is 3304 words.)

Further Reading


Lewis, John L. et al. Heywood Broun As He Seemed to Us., New York: The Newspaper Guild of New York, 1940, 48 p.

Memoir of Broun by his friends and colleagues.

O'Connor, Richard. Heywood Broun: A Biography. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1975, 249 p.

Biography that considers Broun's public roles as a journalist, reformer, and union leader, and explores his private life.


Rubin, Joan Shelley. “Self, Culture, and Self-Culture in Modern America: The Early History of the Book-of-the-Month Club.” The Journal of American History 71, No. 4 (March...

(The entire section is 203 words.)