Photo: Anatole Broyard. Communications and External Affairs (CEA). New School Archives and Special Collections Digital Archive. Web. 22 Oct 2014.
Anatole Paul Broyard (July 16, 1920 – October 11, 1990) was an American writer, literary critic and editor for The New York Times. In addition to his many reviews and columns, he published short stories, essays and two books during his lifetime. His autobiographical works, Intoxicated by My Illness (1992) and Kafka Was the Rage: A Greenwich Village Memoir (1993), were published after his death.
After his death, Broyard became the center of controversy and discussions related to how he had chosen to live as an adult in New York. A Louisiana Creole of mixed race, he was criticized by some blacks for “passing” as white as an adult and failing to acknowledge his African-American ancestry. Multiracial advocates though have cited Broyard as an example of someone forging their own racial identity long before it was acceptable in mainstream America. (…)
Broyard was born in New Orleans into a mixed-race Louisiana Creole family, the son of Paul Anatole Broyard, a carpenter and construction worker, and his wife, Edna Miller, neither of whom finished elementary school. Broyard was descended from pre-Civil War free people of color. (…)
When Broyard was a young child, his family joined the Great Migration during the Great Depression, moving from New Orleans to New York City, to go where his father thought there were more work opportunities. They lived in a working-class and racially diverse community in Brooklyn. Having grown up in the French Quarter’s Creole community, Broyard felt he had little in common with the blacks of Brooklyn. He saw his parents “pass” as white to get work, as his father found the carpenters’ union racially discriminatory. By high school, the younger Broyard had become interested in artistic and cultural life; his sister Shirley said he was unique in the family with these interests. (…)
Broyard had some stories accepted for publication in the 1940s. He began studying at Brooklyn College before the US entered World War II. When he enlisted in the Army, the armed services were segregated; Broyard was accepted as white, went to officers’ school, and was promoted to captain.
After the war, he continued with his white identity. Staples noted:
“Those who had escaped the penalties of blackness in the military were often unwilling to go back to second-class citizenship after the war. One demographer estimated that more that [sic] 150,000 black people sailed away permanently into whiteness during the 1940’s alone, marrying white spouses and most likely cutting off their black families.”
Broyard used the GI Bill to study at the New School for Social Research and settled in Greenwich Village, where he became part of its bohemian artistic and literary life. With money saved during the war, Broyard owned a bookstore for a time. As he described in a 1979 column:
“Eventually, I ran away to Greenwich Village, where no one had been born of a mother and father, where the people I met had sprung from their own brows, or from the pages of a bad novel…. Orphans of the avant-garde, we outdistanced our history and our humanity.”
During the 1940s, Broyard published stories in Modern Writing, Discovery, and New World Writing, three leading pocket-book format “little magazines”. He also contributed articles and essays to Partisan Review, Commentary, Neurotica, and New Directions Publishing. Stories of his were included in two anthologies of fiction widely associated with the Beat writers, but Broyard did not identify with them.
He was often said to be working on a novel, but never published one. After the 1950s, Broyard taught creative writing at The New School, New York University, and Columbia University, in addition to his regular book reviewing. For nearly fifteen years, Broyard wrote daily book reviews for the New York Times. The editor John Leonard was quoted as saying, “A good book review is an act of seduction, and when he [Broyard] did it there was no one better.”
In the late 1970s, Broyard started publishing brief personal essays in the Times, which many people considered among his best work. These were collected in Men, Women and Anti-Climaxes, published in 1980. In 1984 Broyard was given a column in the Book Review, for which he also worked as an editor. He was among those considered “gatekeepers” in the literary world.