Heywood Broun Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.”