Former Pitt News EIC prepares to release debut novel, ‘Brutal Youth’

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Former Pitt News EIC prepares to release debut novel, ‘Brutal Youth’

By Britnee Meiser / For The Pitt News

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Anthony Breznican is widely recognized as an Entertainment Weekly senior movie writer and Academy Award reporter, but his journalistic roots began with The Pitt News in the late ‘90s. The former editor-in-chief makes his fiction debut in the new coming-of-age novel “Brutal Youth,” which will be released June 10. The story focuses on high school freshman Peter Davidek as he enters the corrupt and dangerous environment of Saint Michael’s Catholic School. 

After witnessing an appalling act of violence on the first day, Peter and his friends learn to stand up to their oppressors and navigate their way to survival using unconventional and entertaining methods. Through a combination of thought-provoking action and dark humor, Breznican epitomizes the horrors of high school.

The Pitt News spoke to Breznican in an email about the challenges of growing up, his time at Pitt and how to make it as a writer.

The Pitt News: You went to Catholic school around the same time as protagonist Peter Davidek. How much of your experience is reflected in the fictional Saint Michael’s?

Anthony Breznican: A lot of my memories of school and teenage life are reflected here, although, the volume is dialed up on the dark and demented parts. Growing up is an ugly, awkward business for everyone. There are always people willing to elevate themselves by stepping on your neck. But what we remember once the dust settles are the people who reached out and helped us through. That’s what I drew on — those vital friends who shielded us when we felt crushed. 

TPN: Peter seems to be a bit of an underdog when he first signs up for Saint Michael’s. Why do you think readers will be able to relate to him?

AB: He’s this 14-year-old kid who just wants to slip by under the radar, go unnoticed and not make trouble for himself. But right away, he gets drawn into this crisis at the school, and that sets off a whole chain of events for him — good and bad. Now, he could have laid low, but he felt compelled to help, to do the right thing.

We all want to do good and stand for something. I believe most people start out that way, and at some point, it gets beaten out us. If we’re not careful, we go from being the one willing to run out and help, to the one pushing over the statues. I think that’s something anyone can relate to. We all know what it’s like to feel scared, and the lucky ones figure out how to avoid letting that fear harden into a kind of bitterness.

TPN: The cover image is very powerful. How does it connect to the novel?

AB: That was created by a designer named Rob Grom. It’s this amazing, abstract representation of that burning inside you that sometimes gets so intense it just bursts out. The tie is a little clip-on, which figures prominently in the story as a source of torment. Rob even included a logo I made for the school, with the Latin motto: Sancti Patiuntur, Malo Viget. I’ll let the Latin scholars translate its literal meaning, but it’s a different way of saying “only the good die young.”

TPN: You were once the editor-in-chief of The Pitt News, and now you’re a well-known writer for Entertainment Weekly. How did you get to where you are today?

AB: The Pitt News was my main classroom, and I loved it. Still do. I desperately wanted to be a writer, but my parents were against it. My dad said I’d be writing signs that say, “Will work for food.”

I would never have had the guts to do [it] if not for an instructor at Pitt named Harry Kloman, who in my final year at The Pitt News became the journalism adviser. He encouraged me to think about journalism and eventually helped me land an internship at the Associated Press in Pittsburgh — which led to a job with the AP in Los Angeles. I covered cops, earthquakes and politics for a few years, and then gradually picked up some Hollywood stories, since it’s a company town. Eventually that became the main event.

TPN: What advice would you give to people who want to turn their writing into a career?

AB: Know your limitations and push like hell to overtake them. Believe in yourself, but don’t fall victim to entitlement. A lot of young writers seem to think that a sprig of talent makes them a towering oak. It’s like, you’ve got a long way to grow, buddy. Pay your dues. There are plenty of people who will discourage you. You don’t have to buy what they say, but you better hear it. With the right attitude, they can make you jump higher and run faster. Occasionally, you’ll find someone who reaches back to help you along. Do that same thing for others. If someone shares your dream, help them if you can. Some day they may be the one helping you. 


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