Copyright © 2023 - Irv Broughton @ A Writers Web

A skilled chronicler of living history, Irv Broughton has dedicated the better part of his life to capturing a wide spectrum of American life: distinguished writers; men and women of letters; famous producers, old-time Floridians; heroic World War II fliers and soldiers—those whose memories and experience contribute to the fabric of America and American life.


Even the most casual reader will sense an intimate, fireside pleasure at Broughton’s ability to coax detailed, riveting stories from sometimes otherwise, oftentimes, quiet and reserved people. His technique allows his subjects to emerge—and emerge they do: a gathering of raconteurs.


At Hollins, he studied under, read or hobnobbed with treasured writers like Kay Boyle, Annie Dillard, Malcolm Cowley, George Garrett and William Jay Smith. His own poetry has appeared in many mainstream literary and academic publications: The Cimarron Review, The Roanoke Review, The Red Clay Reader, Intro, Iconoclast, Alembic,  Smartish Place, The Hollins Critic and The Florida Historical Review. Broughton’s interviews have appeared in magazines like The American Poetry Review, The Blue Hotel and The Western Humanities Review—among others.


Irv is credited with discovering now cult-favorite poet Frank Stanford when the two first met at a literary conference at Hollins. From that chance encounter grew a powerful and unique literary relationship: Irv served as his principal publisher throughout the poet’s tragically short life. But the time they spent together—sometimes on what they jokingly call the “Left Bank” of the White River in Arkansas—saw a blossoming of inspired, poetic art and powerful, abiding friendship. In 1975, Broughton produced a documentary film, It Wasn’t a Dream; It Was a Flood, which was an award winner that year at the Northwest Film and Video Festival and remains the one documentary, a seminal record of this prolific artist, who’s sometimes referred to as “a modern-day Walt Whitman.He has since written a screenplay, Dream Like Leadbelly and a musical, Three to the Heart, which deal with their literary friendship and intense collaboration. The Levees that Break in the Heart, a novel, follows Frank's early family life in the epic of building levees in the South. A collection of stories, The Gracious Afterward, tells of the fascinating life of his adopted mother, Dorothy, who grew up on a Mississippi plantation

Broughton founded the literary magazine, The Mill Mountain Review and published early work

by numerous writers who have long earned their remarkable reputations: Margaret Atwood, Wendell Berry, and Philip Levine. His magazine later expanded into book publication,  where he would publish Frank Stanford's and a number of others.


Along the way, he traveled the country as he focused on capturing for posterity the stories of our finest writers. He filmed Kay Boyle, Kenneth Rexroth, John Crowe Ransom, Miller Williams, William Jay Smith, Malcolm Cowley, George Garrett, Elizabeth Spencer, Kenneth Burke, David Wagoner, and several other distinguished contributors to the nation's literary heritage.


To date, Irv published more than 20 books of poetry, non-fiction and fiction. Always interested in exploring new genres, he has forged a significant body of work in a variety of media, both print and film. A trumpet player in high school, he has stretched his wings and undertaken to writing musicals.


He has completed films as diverse as Last Call Forever, a film about the closing of a Native American bar and Crazy in the Eye, about the Hmong cultural needlework. In the works, a film on William Jay Smith, who found a kinship and creed in relating to his Native American roots.


Broughton’s colorful travels have led him to meet many American icons: jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, Converse All-Stars basketball shoes’ Chuck Taylor and Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Colonel Sanders. He has spent an outrageous afternoon with Pulitzer-Prize winner James Wright and hosted John Carradine (Stagecoach) listening to yarns about Shakespeare and life, when the actor visited Florida State on a speaking tour. Irv once relished the company of the 132-year-old Charlie Smith—at one time billed as the “oldest workingman in America,” according to Ripley’s Believe It or Not.


His interest in provocative and fascinating personalities, their histories, their lives, their achievements, triumphs and defeats, marks a passion that shows little sign of waning.  Since those early days, when Broughton traveled the country in his aging ’69 Oldsmobile, he filmed and interviewed many others to form a tapestry of personal stories otherwise likely lost to future generations. Years later, Broughton continues to write, film, poeticize—and, above all, help us remember. Lovely Company: New and Selected Interviews, a recent book, is in some ways a culmination—a capstone--of his more than fifty years of seeking out and interviewing interesting individuals, all over America.


Personal Reflection


"It is a tremendous obsession, this saving and cherishing of memories that have flowed so near the edge of oblivion."


        —Ethelreda Lewis

            in Trader Horn (1927)

A Writer’s Web is, of course, on the World Wide Web, but the name to me evokes, too, an interweaving: a circle about a lot of wonderful people whom I have interviewed or documented in some way. The interview is a strange thing. It is, at its best, a humanism. There remains a special feeling I hold for those people who favored me with the stories of their lives.


I view the interview as a staple of my writing endeavors, apparent in my ten books of interviews. The interview also plays a key role in some of my documentary films, despite schools of thought in cinema that scorn the form. Beyond interview, I write in various genres: a novel, song lyrics, plays, screenplays, etc. I like to write a variety of things that engage me.  Restless, I guess, but the mind takes it where it wants to go.

Impossible, for me, to leave the interview “genre”: I live for it. It is life. Real, in-depth exchanges in an interview also have constituted a kind of lifelong learning. Some might smile at that, but we learn from listening closely to the wisdom of the past, the power of life and its claims. I lost a dear friend, Frank Stanford, the poet I discovered, supported, and published. He died by his own hand, but his words on film and tape and recollections I hold call him back repeatedly, as do his strange and powerful poems. I think, too, of a wonderful woman flier named Teresa James, whom I interviewed for Where the Wings Grow: Conversations with Pioneering Women Pilots. She operated a flower shop in Virginia. A customer ventured in one day and offered up something that gave her hope: her husband, a WWII flier in France, had survived the war. She waited, but to no avail. Over the years, she lived on hope and never remarried. He was coming back. He had to be coming back.


The word “conversation,” as it applies to my interview books, I should qualify. Yes, the interview is conversation in that it ought to be convivial, a shared back-and-forth, ideally, but it’s the extent of that exchange that targets the question. I have worked with a major film crew for a well-known documentary filmmaker and stood vacant in response, only a gulp, as the interviewer dominated and overwhelmed with his verbosity. Technique aside, maybe interviewing is as much about personal qualities as most anything else.


Years ago, a major representative of a granting agency informed me that my grant proposal for a series on American writers I had filmed would not be of interest (something I have heard all too often). She said, “But I know someone doing a film on ‘Collectors,’ and perhaps they could include you in that.” Taken aback, I didn’t have the presence of mind to reply, “Isn’t that what documentary folks do?” Any project takes time and gathering. To think I could have found my years of documenting American writers up in with some iconoclast who, for years, had collected string into a huge ball, big as a globe. That world, my world, would indeed be suspended on a string. Another time, I applied for grant assistance on a film and was once told that the distinguished writer subject of my documentary was not long enough dead. Time passes. Maybe it’s time to apply again. Ha!


Virtually all of the interview subjects I interviewed have passed on. When several of their funerals came, I attended and, though saddened by the loss, felt moved and graced when interviews I did took center stage. Reading verbatim from my interview book, the clergy would surprise, startle, and delight the otherwise somber attendees. It suddenly seemed the service had turned more to a personal celebration of life and accomplishments. Helping to remember can reflect a difference, new meanings to life, even in death.


Perhaps it’s the height of vanity—or maybe naiveté— to prize the forwarding and preserving of memories, the attention of capturing the past, and especially the attempt to make one’s way, if one is lucky, to where those indisputable dreams might lie—but we are nothing but richer, I believe, for the lasting memories of the living and the dead. (But we best catch them when they are alive and here.) This documenting, in any form, this lifetime endeavor, is admittedly a strange charge—my obsession for more than fifty years, though there’s yet a portion of work to be done, life in the remaining film and tape. Somehow, I would hope that through the nagging distances traveled, physically and emotionally, for words and images, the endeavor I found myself engaged in will somehow continue.



Here's how we traveled on Cape Cod, as kids plowing along. Ha. Ironically, years later, I would write about levee building, which would have used some of the same machinery.




























































































































The word “conversation,” as it applies to my interview books, I should qualify. Yes, the interview is conversation in that it ought to be convivial, a shared back-and-forth, ideally, but it’s the extent of that exchange that targets the question. I have worked with a major film crew for a well-known documentary filmmaker and stood vacant in response, only a gulp, as the interviewer dominated and overwhelmed with his verbosity. Technique aside, maybe interviewing is as much about personal qualities as most anything else.