Broderick is the only child of the proprietors of a thriving local business, Broderick’s Bakery. His father dies when he is just three years old. He begins his secondary education at the Marist Brothers’ School but, at the age of 12, on his mother’s remarriage to the bakery manager in 1936, he is sent to board at St. Joseph’s College, Garbally Ballinasloe. He leaves in 1941 without sitting the Leaving Certificate and is expected to take over the bakery business, but always intends to write.
From 1951 he lives for a time in Paris where he knows some of the French and expatriate literary community, among them Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, James Baldwin and most importantly Julien Green. Green is a French Academician and highly respected novelist and diarist, who becomes a mentor and personal friend. He visits Broderick in Athlone in 1974 and 1975.
The Irish Times accepts a travel article from Broderick in 1956. In the same year, the paper publishes the first of his book reviews. He continues to review widely and to write general articles for The Irish Times and Hibernia magazine, among others, until shortly before his death. As a critic he is frequently controversial being dismissive of a number of established writers including Heinrich Boll, Seamus Heaney and most notably Edna O’Brien while he is extremely generous and encouraging to a host of young Irish writers. His first novel, The Pilgrimage (1961) is banned by the Irish Censorship of Publications Board. Broderick is elected to membership of the Irish Academy of Letters in 1968, and in 1975 receives the Academy’s Annual Award for Literature.
Broderick lives most of his life in Athlone, with his mother until her death in 1974, and alone until he moves to Bath, England in 1981. He dies in Bath in 1989. The Westmeath County Library system has a collection of his papers, manuscripts and other materials.
Most of Broderick’s family are born and reared in Athlone, and many still live there today. John Broderick is third cousins to Shauna, Cliodhna and Aisling Golden, three sisters who perform together as a singing act called “The Golden Sisters” who are quarter finalists on the RTÉ prime-time show “The All Ireland Talent Show.”