Bradford, Arthur 1969-
BRADFORD, Arthur 1969-
PERSONAL: Born 1969, in ME. Education: Yale University, B.A. (American studies); University of Texas at Austin, M.F.A., 1998.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Publicity Director, Random House, 1540 Broadway, New York, NY 10036.
CAREER: Writer and filmmaker. Has worked at the Texas School for the Blind and at Camp Jabberwocky, MA, offering a video production class for disabled adults. Produced How's Your News? (a documentary film featuring five Camp Jabberwocky participants as news reporters), HBO/Cinemax, 2002.
AWARDS, HONORS: O'Henry Award, for "Catface," 1997; Stanford University, creative writing program, fellowship.
Contributor to magazines, including Esquire and McSweeney's, and to the O. Henry Awards Anthology.
SIDELIGHTS: Although he had been writing for years, Arthur Bradford did not call himself a writer until his first collection of short stories, Dogwalker, was published by Knopf in 2001 and greeted with rave reviews.
Born in Maine, Bradford moved to New York City after his parents were divorced. When he was mugged there, he was sent off to boarding school in Massachusetts and eventually graduated from Yale University. The summer after he graduated, Bradford took a job at Camp Jabberwocky, a camp for adults with disabilities, in Massachusetts. He would return there for nine summers, and many of the people he met there would become key players in his first major documentary film, How's Your News? Broadcast by HBO in the spring of 2002, the film follows several adults whom Bradford met at Camp Jabberwocky as they become news reporters, interviewing people all across America.
Owing to his fondness for Richard Linklatter's film Slacker, set in Austin, Texas, Bradford decided to move to Austin. While living there, he applied to Stanford University's creative writing program and received a fellowship. When his fellowship ended, he returned to Austin, where he pursued an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Texas. By 1999 Bradford had started moving north, living temporarily in Charlottesville, Virginia, before ending up in Vermont. In an interview with Robert Birnbaum for Identity Theory, Bradford noted, "I have lived in a lot of places, and sometimes I'm sort of embarrassed about it. I do like to change scenery a lot." Bradford has also spent time in New York, a city he loves but would not want to live in. He is well known for his readings at McSweeney's, where hundreds of people often turn out to watch him perform.
Dogwalker is a collection of twelve humorous short stories, all told in the first person, including an O'Henry Award-winning story from 1997 titled "Catface." In his review of the book for New York Times Book Review, Rob Walker said that "Strange, freakish and flat-out impossible things happen all the time . . . but the protagonist usually remains resolutely poker-faced." The characters in Bradford's stories are those often referred to as "marginal," young men who live in cheap apartments and work as dishwashers. In "South for the Winter" the narrator steals the car of a blind man. When he runs out of gas and gets arrested, the blind man bails him out. "Chainsaw Apple" focuses on the narrator's practice of using a chainsaw to carve a friend's initials on an apple, while the friend holds the apple in his mouth. When performing the stunt in public, the narrator accepts a woman's offer to hold the apple and ends up injuring her face, which somehow leads to romance. In a review for Library Journal, Mary Szczesiul noted that even if Bradford's bizarre stories are plausible and seem upsetting, "he reserves a place for innocence, and the stories have an upbeat ending."
In an interview for BookBrowser.com, Bradford commented: "When I think about the narrator of these stories, I think of someone a little bit (or maybe a lot) like myself who is strangely fascinated by weird people and animals, and is also not very judgmental about it all. He is very open to these situations. Personally, I've found that I seek out oddballs; I like strange and eccentric people a lot. The narrator is a little different in each story, but he's always a basic variation of the same form, which is in a lot of ways based on me and probably also some of my other favorite narrators in fiction and nonfiction (William Burroughs's Junky, Hemingway's narrator in The Sun Also Rises). Sometimes the autobiographical link in each story is very literal, like I did work at the Texas School for the Blind, and I did once lose a mattress out of the back of a friend's truck. Other times it's more of just a feeling—like with 'Dogs' I was living in a house with eleven dogs and all I thought about was dogs. I never had sex with any of them, though. I chose the titleDogwalker because that describes me pretty well. I spend a lot of time walking around with my dogs. I'd say the narrator is me in an alternate universe."
In addition to more filmmaking, Bradford intends to write a novel. "I would be happy to have one more book and one more movie. If they were good," Bradford told Birnbaum. "I don't think I'll have a prolific twenty-book output. If I only wrote one more book I would be okay with that and okay with one more movie, although I think that I'll do more than that. I'd like to teach. I think teaching is really cool. I think it's an honorable thing to do. I'd like to start a camp like Camp Jabberwocky with an artistic bent to it."
Douglas Wolk wrote in the Village Voice that Bradford is "careful not to make it explicit, but the subtext of both [his] movie and his fiction is tender to the point of sentimentality—several of Dogwalker's stories end with couples walking off hand in hand or arm in arm, and one closes with, no kidding, six puppies parading in from the cold on Christmas Day. The repetitive obsessions, twisted bodies, and flatly disengaged voice of his work cover for the softheartedness at its center." In advance publicity for Dogwalker, Bradford's publisher noted that Bradford's "perfect, perfect stories remain in your head, much like, say, a severed torso might remain under the tracks of a train."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Book, July, 2001, Ken Greenberg, review of Dogwalker, p. 75.
Booklist, July, 2001, Brendan Dowling, review of Dogwalker, p. 1977.
Entertainment Weekly, September 7, 2001, Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, review of Dogwalker, p. 158.
Esquire, August, 2001, Adrienne Miller, review of Dogwalker, p. 38.
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, August 8, 2001, Margaria Fichtner, review of Dogwalker, p. K2851.
Library Journal, August, 2001, Mary Szczesiul, review of Dogwalker, p. 168.
Los Angeles Times, September 11, 2001, Michael Harris, "Stories with a Charming Weirdness," p. E3.
New York Times, August 26, 2001, Rob Walker, review of Dogwalker, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, July 23, 2001, review of Dogwalker, p. 48.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 2002, D. Quentin Miller, review of Dogwalker, p. 240.
Times (London, England), September 8, 2001, review of Dogwalker, p. 10.
Village Voice, August 15-21, 2001, Douglas Wolk, "Rebel without Paws," p. 133.
BookBrowser.com,http://www.bookbrowser.com/ (October 6, 2001), interview with Arthur Bradford.
Identity Theory,http://www.identitytheory.com/ (March 5, 2002), Robert Birnbaum, "Interview: Arthur Bradford.*"