On the Record

Celebrating the written word

On the Record with John Bradley

John Bradley
John Bradley

DeKALB – John Bradley of DeKalb has always loved reading and the written word.

His mother used to tell the story of when he was a young boy, around 2 years old. They were traveling on a boat to Germany, and he took and read a Little Golden Book from another boy.

Bradley is an English instructor at Northern Illinois University, and reading and writing is now his job.

In February, Bradley was asked to be the word judge for “Word of Art 3,” a published collection of written stories and artwork.

The Word of Art exhibition and book release reception was held March 10 at the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford.

Bradley met with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton to discuss Word of Art, his judging and the importance of the written word.

Milton: What did you know about “Word of Art” before you were asked to be a judge?

Bradley: Not too much. The book’s editor, Mary Lamphere, asked me if I wanted to be a judge. She gave me 28 manuscripts and my job was to choose one winner and three honorable mentions. … I first met Mary through her writer’s group at the DeKalb Public Library. I was invited to attend the meeting and give a talk.

Milton: Have you ever judged before?

Bradley: I judged before, but this was a little different. The writers were asked to create a work that was “visually inspiring.” Typically, when judging, I think about language and writing quality. I was looking for a visual element that was strong and carried through. A number of them did that.

Milton: How was this judging experience different from grading?

Bradley: I know my students, but I was judging completely blind, not knowing the names or backgrounds or any information about the writers. In class, I give my students a particular assignment. They are asked to summarize a chapter in a book or write a personal narrative. “Word of Art” is more open-ended. The writers had more freedom, they could write about anything. When reading, I had no idea where the story would go.

Milton: Do you write?

Bradley: I am a writer and poet. I love including words that give mental images, like similes and metaphors in my own work. I recently published my sixth full-length book. The book, “And Thereby Everything,” published by a small press in Vermont, Longhouse Books, brings together the timelines and stories of Billy the Kid and Henry Ford. It was fun to bring them together in a fantasy world that I created, even though they were contemporaries. The mechanical world of Ford created limits in the world of Billy the Kid, who had horses and more primitive aspects. I love history. I’ve always found it fascinating.

Milton: What other types of writing do you do?

Bradley: I often write poetry and prose poems. Most don’t rhyme or have a rhyme scheme. I also create aphorisms, short little sayings like the ones Benjamin Franklin created. An example would be, “Smoke needs no passport.” That’s one that just came to mind. I also review books for a journal called “Rain Taxi” out of Minneapolis.

Milton: What do you think it is important to have written works and artwork in print?

Bradley: I think that the written, printed word is really important. Black and white printed words have a lasting sense, like they will last a long time. My wife, Jana Brubaker, is a librarian at NIU’s Founders Memorial Library. She says that physical, printed books will outlast our current technology systems. She’s actually working on her own book, about cataloging issues and hoax memoir books.

Milton: Do you have advice for fellow writers?

Bradley: Reading is crucial. You have to read a lot to add to and expand your language skills. I would advise keeping a journal, whether it’s writing down your dreams or a diary. Put time aside every day or a couple of times a week to write. Forming a writer’s group with friends can also keep you writing. With a group, you have an audience.

Milton: What do you like about Word of Art and the event?

Bradley: It is an opportunity to celebrate writing, which I think is important and exciting. Taking time out of your day to celebrate writing doesn’t happen too often. ... I think that “Word of Art” is a great idea, and I definitely would like to support and help publicize the book and its events in the future.

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