Washington Post Profiles Work by Professor Bradley

More than a decade of research by CMC Assistant Professor of Literature Adam Bradley on the unpublished writing of Ralph Ellison will be featured in the Sunday, Aug. 19 edition of the Washington Post Magazine in an article by Wil Haygood. Bradley also will host an online chat devoted to Ellison via the Post’s Web site at noon on Monday, Aug. 20.

Ellison, a prolific novelist, short story writer, scholar and essayist, is best known for his novel Invisible Man, which won the National Book Award in 1953. The book explores the theme of man’s search for his identity and place in society, as seen from the perspective of an unnamed black man in 1940s New York City. Ellison died in 1994.

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The feature story on Bradley developed while he was on sabbatical in Washington, D.C., last year. “After a Ralph Ellison event at the Library of Congress I struck up a conversation with a familiar face I recognized from previous events,” Bradley says. “We got to talking about Ellison, and I told this man some of the story of my own involvement with Ellison’s work. He was intrigued and said, I have to write about this.’ The man turned out to be Washington Post writer Wil Haygood.”

Bradley began his work with Ellison’s unpublished papers during his sophomore year at Lewis & Clark College. “I took a class with professor John Callahan, who also happened to be close friends with Ellison,” he says. “When Ellison passed away in 1994, Callahan was named literary executor, and he asked me to work as his research assistant. Over the years, we’ve developed a true collaboration.

“We currently are working together as co-editors to complete the forthcoming Modern Library edition of the manuscripts of Ellison’s unfinished second novel,” Bradley says.

The professor says reading Invisible Man as a college freshman changed his life. Although he considered himself well-read for his age, “I had never come across a work of fiction that seemed so directly applicable to my everyday experience,” he says. “Ellison’s theme is the theme of identity, as told through the particular experience of a young black man, but with the general assertion that, as Ellison writes in the novel’s haunting final line, perhaps, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you.’

“Ellison’s nameless protagonist certainly spoke for me then,” Bradley says, “and continues to do so today.”

As years pass, Bradley says he has gained a kind of intimacy with Ellison that he has experienced with few living people, much less literary figures. “Although I never met him, I’ve come to know him in countless hours spent reading his words published and unpublished; public and private.”

After being home-schooled by his grandmother until he was in high school, Bradley went on to major in English at Lewis & Clark College, before earning his Ph.D. at Harvard, where he continued his English studies with a focus on African-American literature.

While at Harvard, Bradley’s mentors included Henry Louis Gates Jr., Cornel West, Helen Vendler, Werner Sollors, and Lawrence Buell. His current research interests also include hip-hop poetics.

To participate in Bradley’s online chat click here (scroll down to the bottom of the page to view and submit discussion postings).

Chat participants can submit their questions either ahead of time or in real-time during the conversation.