A Writers Web

  Author - Irv Broughton


Author of more than 20 books

      Irv Broughton is considered a major chronicler of American life. His collections of interviews include American writers, producers, fliers and everyday folks. They feature the likes of Issac Asimov, Ensign George Gay (of the Battle of Midway), Ursula K. Le Guin, Chuck Jones, Elizabeth Spencer and Steve Allen—along with numerous others. A three-time winner of the NW Film and Video Festival in Portland, his films have shown at various festivals, notably Ann Arbor and Seattle's Bumbershoot. Irv's written screenplays, most recently, The Black Eagle, in collaboration with Christa Fuller. He has also created more than 100 song lyrics, many of which are composed and readied for performance in his three or more musicals. All of this illustrates the wide and diverse range of interests. His latest books include Lovely Company: New and Selected Interviews and Where the Wings Grow: Conversations with Pioneering Women Pilots, described by Kirkus Reviews as “delightful.

      Irv holds BA and MA degrees from Florida State University and MA from the distinguished writing program at Hollins College (now Hollins University), where he received an Academy of America Poets recognition. He has taught at several colleges including the University of Washington.








WWII African American Pilots tell their stories of what it was like flying during the war and what their  experiences were like flying in these racially tense times.




Copyright © 2023 - Irv Broughton



George Garrett

                              by Irv Broughton


     Novelist, poet, raconteur George Garrett died recently--a quiet death, his wife Susan told me, a death among his children and grandchildren and his compassionate, dedicated Susan. It was not with a rage against the dying light--the light had been fading for a long time, though his spirit remained strong. George had fought that brave fight against troubling illnesses. He finally succumbed to bladder cancer, having suffered from myasthenia gravis, and other maladies, dealing with them all in-tight and in-close like a  boxer.  And thus, America lost one of its greatest and most colorful writers.


     I spoke to George on the phone Wednesday, maybe, the week before he died. His voice that had carried the authority of Sir Walter Raleigh in his brilliant Death of the Fox, the voice that rollicked and echoed its way through locker rooms and military barracks, the voice that graced the ivory-covered walls of the universities of Virginia, Michigan, Rice, Princeton and Hollins, where he taught more than a thousand, aspiring writers how to write, now was but a shadow, a wisp, and barely audible. I could feel him at the end of the line (as George might have used an irresistible pun), a pulse of breath where a laugh would usually do. I told him I had written a poem for him--an odd poem, I thought, but one I hoped he'd like. I had composed it for a book of basketball poems that recalled my old days in sports, playing the game--maybe just the good-old, naive and innocent days--and I purposely borrowed one of his pet phrases: "laughing and scratching." He used those words often. Maybe the words reminded him of one of his lives: the military years in Trieste, the years in sports--he played JV football at Princeton, boxed at amateur level--or just the everyday, mundane way we salve the bites and wounds: "What we didn't know/ Included how tablets/Of salt--just three or four/ Before game time required/Us to be watered like flowers."  And then it references how the server at our basketball training table at Florida State cuts himself, cackling and splattering blood on the roast baron of beef he's slicing. The last stanza reads: "We knew enough to/laugh and scratch/ Our way through/We won or lost/ and didn't for a second, die.


     George Garrett lived a vivid, wild and wonderful, sad and glad, rich and textured 78 years of life--and he didn't, for a second, die.


     After I read the poem, he whispered a breathless something I could not quite make out--this most distinguished literary voice. "We can hear you," I wanted to say, from way back in some glorious room of the past.


     I had phoned George several times in recent weeks, trying hard to be funny and fun, to cheer him. As his voice began to fail, I did the talking, delivering ten-or fifteen minute monologues. I was telling jokes poorly, struggling to fill the silence, and knowing what I and the others who know and cherish him had always known--it isn't easy competing with the master: "The Maestro." In fact, it was impossible.


   For nearly 42 years George has been my teacher, friend and mentor. His death caused me to ponder the role of mentor. His brilliance, masked sometimes in the funny, silly and trivial, stands out but so too the singular dedication to his students, friends and colleagues. If I had one snapshot from the byways of the past, I would want a picture of his face at the moment he'd spot me: the Garrett attention. No matter what he was doing then, he would carefully, politely separate, and I'd be the center of the world. Not that I was alone in this--for he made many others, in what writer Kelly Cherry called "a community of writers," feel the same in the same way. Conversations would continue, mid-sentence--as if life went on so wonderfully from the sweet days and times past, as if smiles and laughter, jokes and stories, would always be there, as precise and imprecise as memory.


     That's a mentor!


      Kindness begets kindness, but how does one ever pay back a mentor like George? The deeds and gestures, all of which were done without show. All in  his debt--and there are many--have tried to repay him. All his friends have. Years ago, when I studied in the Graduate Writing Program at Hollins College, I told George I wanted to start a literary magazine. He was puffing on a cigarette, Cagney-style, and abruptly put the Marlboro down and scribbled me a check for two-hundred dollars. I said, "No, you needn't do that."  Instead, George insisted in that soft, warm way. I later attempted a small measure of  payback, when Professor R. H. W. Dillard and I edited a George Garrett issue of the Mill Mountain Review, the magazine. I had a lot to pay back to George--and it will always remain so. Back then, no sooner had he given me the money, when he offered up some of his sought-after work, gratis, for my new publication. Over the years, he has written glorious blurbs in praise of my books. Was he really the fabled "Blurb King" in that story? Furthermore, he helped countless of us to be published. He even withdrew his book from a contest so that a student could have a shot at winning. (That student, Henry Taylor,  received publication then and  his next book won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.) Toward the end of his life, George wasn't still the magic man; he seemed to have lost his standing, when publishing evolved and changed, but even then he never stopped trying to help others.


     When Doubleday agreed to purchase some copies of the Garrett celebration  issue of The Mill Mountain Review, I rented a U-Haul trailer to deliver copies of it to New York. Driving in the city, I found another challenge. I couldn't imagine backing a trailer, much less against New York traffic. Again, George ventures  as he depicts me in the story of my trip: I maneuver against every vehicle in the city, cutting off cabbies, trying to seek out a parking space. And he guessed right: I had never backed a U-Haul. In the Garrett variation, I infuriate a cabbie, who has seen me everywhere, the brash out-of-towner, trying to edge him out of  his parking spot, and so I get in some real trouble. Never mind that cabbies have their own spots--or did then, I think.


     It's easy to assume that George's tales typically wagged the truth, but that isn't necessarily so. He sometimes would admit as much, with some chagrin. But what did it matter? It was fun. George was, at his heart  and soul, a storyteller. One might find more truth possible intuitively from George and from that ballooning imagination. It was imagination and wisdom combined. Now, that's a lesson for a writer.


     I later made a documentary film about George Garrett, News of the Spirit which, largely for financial reason, took me several decades to complete. But another, unuttered reason accounts for the span: There is (or was) no simple beginning and ending to this man and his life, this complex, quixotic, charming, wonderful, multi-talented man. I wanted desperately to get the film right as one possibly could, especially given no solid budget and multiple other constraints. But I finally finished it just years before his death. Happily,  George liked the film, and that mattered most.


     The long-standing joke with the film involved the time it took, for time was something George had begun to weigh. After I had filmed him over several years, he jested: "I'll be dead before you get the film done." The filming went on. (I lost a hard drive transfer of the 16mm and couldn't afford to transfer it over again.) That playful countenance carried into doleful foreboding as he grew older and more ill, and the film relentlessly dragged on, uncompleted. I know now, as then, no payback would compensate for what he'd done for me. But I tried. I think that counts.


   ' The novelist Kay Boyle, with whom I studied at Hollins, asked me once if I could take care of her prized, pristine car, something like a '49  Plymouth. She planned to be gone for two weeks. "Please, drive it," she said. "It's good for the motor." So I did, and one day as I leisurely cruised the tight, winding road past Hollins' legendary Tinker Creek, the car's fan belt broke, the fan's blades flying through the radiator. I was devastated. My heart skyrocketed and I trembled when I related the horrible incident to George, who laughed and who told me I should write a story about the incident and call it, "A Fan Dance for Kay Boyle." How that story morphed and what delightful variations. It instituted a hungry tow-truck operator in the yarn.  But, at least, it wasn't that irate cabbie!


    To borrow a football quarterback term, George Garrett was a "triple threat," but he was, as a writer, master of the short story, master of the novel, as well as a mighty fine poet. Few writers can do it all--and so superbly. Indeed, in his life, Garrett won his share of notable awards, but not the ones that resonate with elite standing. Still, he neither sought nor wrote for fame--but he wrote so well. And if somebody's definition of a great writer stands, that of a person who writes extremely well and writes a lot, George was that. He wrote over 60 books--30 his original work, and another 30 or so edited (which also often included his own work.) And he had no website. It made me think of contemporary times. Will the hand, driven by thought, on the long, yellow legal pad, pass away?


     Given different circumstances, having "hit it big," so to speak, perhaps in a popular genre or through writing the topical, George would not have changed for it. He would be the same guy: the boy with the diving bell exploring Florida's lakes, the man hell-bent on telling stories on his friends, a true Southern  gentleman finding time to write up a storm, even as he helped others with their own tempests. Who is it, of lofty heart, could be truer to his friends--or to his art?


     A good mentor teaches by example. From George, I learned so much--to the trust the imagination implicitly, to let it join the heart in dance, and most importantly, perhaps, to risk its outrageous say.


     Fame is as fraud and a cheat. I saw the real thing and it was George.


     I asked writer Robert Bausch how good a writer George Garrett. "We've never had a better one," he replied.


     "Never?" I said.


      "Never," he replied.  As for a mentor, I've certainly never had a better one. It just is not possible.


      George Garrett, 1928-2008, genius with a mask--save for a gentle veneer of humor--taught writers to write, gave readers some remarkable books, and made a lot of people laugh. His father had argued before Felix Frankfurter and the U.S. Supreme Court, but now the argument--or better said, "discussion," where George stands among mortals is perhaps on hold, at least, for the time being, and left to history and memory.


     I spoke at George's funeral along with a dozen or so other writers, including Ann Beattie. I gasped my way through and smiled reluctantly later when several congratulated me on how well I had done. (I doubted the audience had heard half of the teary indistinct. Ha!) Lately, at night, I can hear the old mentor's voice, almost as if death were a light-sleeper. It is clear, though raspy, and he's with me, with all of us, still speaking--in such real and loving ways--especially in his books. Re-read his books, I will--and keep on learning. In Double Vision, his last book published, George wrote, "Death is much on my mind these days. My friend thinks I am dying. I am not sure. And, after all, it's my choice, not his." It was one of the few times I heard the most generous mentor fail to defer to others.


    When I spoke to Susan just after George died, she told me he hadn't received the "hard copy"--if you'll pardon the expression (Again, George's kind of phrase) of the poem I wrote--which also included a few words of encouragement on the side, and I felt saddened. But I know he's somewhere "laughing and scratching, laughing and scratching." And I was happy he'd heard me read that poem. His own breath was praise enough.