Bradway, Becky 1957–
Bradway, Becky 1957–
PERSONAL: Born November 21, 1957, in Phoenix, AZ; married Douglas Hesse (an educator); children: Monica Hesse, Andrew Hesse, Paige Osburn. Education: University of Illinois, B.A., M.A.; attended Columbia University, 1985; Illinois State University, Ph.D., 1998.
ADDRESSES: Home—204 William Dr., Normal, IL 61761. Office—510 East Washington St., Ste. 212, Bloomington, IL 61701. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Freelance writer, 1980–. ICASA, Springfield, IL, communications coordinator, 1986–94; Illinois State University, Normal, professor of English, 1994–98; Millikin University, Decatur, IL, professor of English, 1998–2002; Illinois State University, professor of English, 2002–04. Gives readings of fiction, poetry, and essays.
MEMBER: Associated Writing Programs, American Studies Association.
AWARDS, HONORS: Award from Illinois Arts Council.
Pink Houses and Family Taverns (nonfiction), Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 2002.
(Editor and author of introduction) In the Middle of the Middle West: Literary Nonfiction from the Heartland, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 2003.
(Editor and author) Creating Non-Fiction, St Martin's Press (New York, NY), in press.
Work represented in anthologies. Contributor of articles, essays, and short stories to periodicals, including Chronicle Review, Double Take, Ascent, Third Coast, ACM, Bridge, Brilliant Corners: Journal of Jazz and Literature, North American Review, Cream City Review, Other Voices, Beloit Fiction Journal, Rhetoric Review, and Sojourner.
WORK IN PROGRESS: House of Dreams (tentative title), a biographical novel about poets Vachel Lindsay and Sara Teasdale, 1900–35; a book about graphic novels, technology, teenagers, and "the obsession with everything Japanese"; poetry.
SIDELIGHTS: Becky Bradway told CA: "I write because I need to write. It helps me to figure out what I don't understand. I seem unable to make sense of anything unless I write it down on paper. I also find that it's the best way for me to make myself understood. Mostly, I write because it's fun: it's difficult and fun, and it feels like it matters. It's part of who I am.
"I'm not sure where the 'career' begins and where the 'writing' begins. I've written since I was very young, when I would draw pictures to go with my stories. My most deliberate decision to 'be a writer' came when I took my first creative writing class as a junior in college. It was there I realized that writing was something that a flawed, breathing human could do and that such a human could be taken seriously. I came from a blue-collar background in which books and education were considered frivolous. The class showed me that unextraordinary people actually did this writing thing for a living. I crossed my fingers and decided to go for it.
"Now, twenty years later, I find that making a living as a writer is never easy. A writer usually ends up teaching, composing articles, designing ads, all kinds of things to support the creative habit. The world is generally not out there waving around hundred-dollar-bills and begging for stories and poems. The competition is fierce and readers are dwindling. Still, there was never a time when I considered giving up.
"I've read many writers whose work I deeply admire, and I've met many writers whose work I sometimes admire, and I've read some writers whose work I can't stand, and all of them have influenced me. The writers whose work you dislike can help you to define your own work. The writers who you personally know can help you to remember that these are just people, not some lofty abstract notion of a genius. The writers whose work you admire can remind you why you got into this and how far you still have to go.
"Writers who influenced me at twenty are not necessarily the same ones who influence me now. The ones whose work hit me like a board across the forehead were Flannery O'Connor, Kurt Vonnegut, J. D. Salinger, Joseph Heller, Louise Erdrich, Raymond Carver, William Faulkner; of poets: John Keats, Anne Sexton, James Wright. These were the people who affected me when I was young. I read differently now. I read to understand technique and to be moved, but I am rarely moved quite as dramatically as I was when I was twenty. I've also been reading far more essayists than fiction writers, for many complicated reasons. A few things I've read in 2004 that 'blew me away': Harry Crews' memoir 'A Childhood'; Sharon Solwitz's essay 'Abra Cadabera'; Jane Kenyon's essays and poems; Denis Johnston's book Seek; Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis; Michael Martone's book The Flatness and Other Landscapes; Salman Rushdie's book Step across This Line; and a number of poems by Yusef Komanyaaka.
"The aim of my writing varies with every project. Sometimes I don't have any sense at all of what I want to achieve. I generally don't sit and consider the effect on the reader; what I do is hope for certain kinds of reactions. Sometimes this hope is conscious, but mostly it's just a vague feeling. My book Fishing for Polyester was my most deliberate project. I had a clear intention of pushing people to consider the disastrous things we've done to the environment. I focused on one area of central Illinois and told stories of environmental problems in this place. I now think that my purpose was too deliberate, too didactic, although I was able to publish excerpts from this book in some very good magazines. This type of writing is the hardest for me.
"On the other end of the spectrum, I've been writing some poems that are imagistic and fragmented—almost hectic—and for those I've been going for emotional impact and a certain sound of the words. For these, I hope to achieve music, and if people get pleasure and pain from that—great. In my book about graphic novels and teenagers, I'm trying to capture pictures of a certain contemporary subculture; I want to tell a story and analyze some dramatic changes in the ways people communicate. In the novel about Vachel Lindsay, I want to move readers while accurately reflecting events that took place a hundred years ago. I want to bring people into a time and have them consider that world and empathize with the people in it. This is my goal in almost everything I write.
"Am I really doing this as therapy? None of the things I've written feels very therapeutic or cathartic to me, although it may be that I write to heighten experiences and to move beyond a temporary thought. It may be that I'm trying to hold on and let go simultaneously. There is no personal relief that comes from writing—often just the opposite. You have to exhibit guts if you're going to write about anything complicated. As you can tell, none of this is easy to explain, which is why writers write books, I guess.
"Do I have any advice for beginning writers? Be prepared to revise. Learn who to listen to and who to ignore. Take chances, even if you feel stupid or silly. Don't assume that you'll become famous or make money, or you'll give up way too soon. Read all kinds of writing, from all kinds of writers, as often as you can."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Fourth Genre, Volume 6, number 2, Allison Schuette-Hoffman, review of In the Middle of the Middle West: Literary Nonfiction from the Heartland, pp. 137-40.
Kliatt, November, 2002, Patricia A. Moore, review of Pink Houses and Family Taverns, p. 30.
Library Journal, February 15, 2004, Jan Brue Enright, review of In the Middle of the Middle West, p. 126.
New Letters, Volume 70, number 2, H. R. Hix, review of In the Middle of the Middle West.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 2002, Nicole Lamy, review of Pink Houses and Family Taverns, p. 173.
Third Coast, Volume 19, Peter Patau, review of In the Middle of the Middle West.
Becky Bradway Home Page, http://bbradway.net (November 29, 2004).
Becky Bradway's Central Standard Blog, http://beckybradway.blogspot.com (November 29, 2004).