By ANGYE MORRISON
For Statesboro native Kathy Bradley, life is full of questions. And she is constantly seeking answers.
Bradley’s third book of essays, “Sifting Artifacts,” in which she asks questions about humanity, community and stewardship, is being released this month. For this author, writing is the pathway to the answers she needs.
“I am a very curious person by nature, and I also need to spend a lot of time alone. That curiosity and that need send me outside,” she said. “I’ll see something — the way sunlight strikes a tree or a newly-bloomed wildflower — and a metaphor will materialize in my thoughts. From the metaphor comes a focus, usually on something I’ve been contemplating already, and the metaphor gives me an insight or answer.”
Bradley says her job, at that point, is to tell the story and bear witness to the experience in such a way that the reader gains that same focus to his or her thoughts.
Now a retired attorney, Bradley says her upbringing in the South strongly influenced her as a writer. She says there were three institutions that forged her childhood: family, church and Girl Scouts.
“I am forever grateful that there were adults in each of those institutions who encouraged, celebrated and applauded me. I always thought I would land somewhere else, but returning to Bulloch County after law school to make my life was the exactly right decision,” she said.
Bradley moved with her family to the farm she now calls home when she was a senior in high school — and she’s never left.
“Except for implementation of 911 addresses that gave me a house number, my address hasn’t changed in 48 years,” she said.
Bradley comes from a large family on both sides, and she learned to tell stories from listening to her parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. But her professor at Wesleyan, where she majored in American Studies, introduced her to the idea that the songs and stories of her family were things to be valued and preserved.
“It is because of Dr. (Leah) Strong that my ear is trained to the cadence and melody of Southern voices, alerted to the meanings of colloquialisms, tender to the weightiness of words like ‘home’ and ‘place,’” she said.
She has paid homage to those words and all they mean for years in a column in the Statesboro Herald, which she started writing in 1996. Bradley often shares in the column experiences of life on her farm and the lessons she’s learned there. The columns, she said, naturally progressed into her first book.
In the winter of 2010, Bradley was reading a Mercer University alumni magazine, and noticed an announcement by Mercer University Press that there would be three new literary awards, and it got her wheels spinning. She had been thinking about compiling her columns into book form, and thought the time might be right to move forward with it.
“In the days to come I started playing around with the idea, including drafting an introduction that would give some structure to what I had seen, up to that point, as unrelated pieces. It was in writing the introduction (as it has been in the subsequent two books) that I realized I'd actually been writing a cohesive narrative all along,” she said.
That first book, “Breathing and Walking Around,” was born from that effort, followed later by a second book, “Wondering Toward Center.” Since then, Bradley has been twice named Georgia Author of the Year.
For Bradley, writing is a way to re-establish the connection between the mind and the heart.
“Each of us must discover a way to re-establish that connection and, for me, it is writing because writing requires me to think — and, therefore, feel — on a deeper level than everyday living necessitates,” she said. “Being a writer is my way of connecting with the world and encouraging that connection in our people, encouraging them to take their questions and quandaries into their own creative pursuits — gardening, woodworking, quilting, painting — and find their own ways to illuminate the truth.”
In her current book, Bradley says she’s discovered a new lens through which to look at the world and herself. She speaks in its pages about her journey to find herself, and says she has “absolutely not arrived.”
“If that were even possible, I don't think I'd want to. As for finding myself, I think I've found myself three or four times already. I found myself at the Governor's Honors Program and again at Wesleyan. There have been a handful of relationships in which I've found myself and, most recently, retiring from the practice of law which allowed me to devote myself full-time to writing has been a finding of myself,” she said.
The “new lens” Bradley picked up through the writing of her newest book was colored by the past two years that she says have been “difficult ones for us all.”
“That difficulty has been manifested in very different ways, of course. For me it hasn't been the social isolation, but the grief. I've lost a number of cousins to COVID and several others to other things,” she said. “My mother passed away in November 2020, about 10 years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's. That loss, in particular, has brought me into a new reality about mortality. I look at things now with a very acute awareness that my time — to discover and learn and write — is limited, but that is not a maudlin thought at all. I'm really grateful for the clarity that, as my daddy always says, ‘just comes by birthdays.’”
Bradley says that she has specific ideas about what she wants readers to gain after reading her book.
“That this minute is full of beauty and possibility. That the best gifts and rewards are the subtle epiphanies that find their way into daily life. That each of us is, simultaneously, an infinite speck and the most important creature on earth,” she said.
In the coming months, Bradley plans to spend time with readers, speak to book and civic clubs, talk about “Sifting Artifacts,” and work on her next book, which she says is a little different from the first three. She is also working on a novel, and plans to finish putting together a book of poetry.
For more information on Bradley’s books or the author herself, go online at www.kathybradley.com.