Adam Bradley is a scholar of 20th and 21st century African American literature and a writer on popular culture. He is the founding director of the Laboratory for Race & Popular Culture (the RAP Lab) at CU, Boulder. His scholarship and teaching engage both traditional subjects of literary inquiry like novels and poems and emerging areas like music and song lyrics. He is presently at work on a book that expands his focus on the poetics of rap songs to the poetics of pop songs across all genres.
Contact info and details
- Office: Denison 170; 303-492-6209
- Rap Lab: Cristol 254
- Adam Bradley’s Curriculum Vitae
Area/s of specialty
- American Literature
- Ethnic American Literature, Literature of the Americas, Post Colonial Literature
- Modern and Contemporary Literature
- Popular Culture, Film, Digital Media
- The Poetics of Pop Songs
- Explicit Content: In Defense of Offense in Popular Music
- Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop
- The Anthology of Rap Ralph Ellison’s Three Days Before the Shooting
- Ralph Ellison in Progress One Day It’ll All Make Sense
Questions and Answers
What is your approach to teaching? How do you reach students in the classroom?
I’m interested in engaging my students’ instincts as well as their minds. After all, studying literature relies on simple skills—reading and writing—with which most of us have attained functional mastery long before we enter a college classroom. In the span of a semester, I might be able to make some small impact upon each student’s skills as a reader and as a writer. Just as important, though, I believe that by reading and discussing literature with them, I can affect the casts of their minds. The greatest fictional characters end up taking up residence in our consciousness; they provide another set of eyes through which to look upon the world. Elizabeth Bennet is such a character. So is Stephen Dedalus. So is Oscar Wao. It’s a great gift to be in a position to introduce students to characters like that.
What would you like the general public to know about your work? What are you passionate about?
I want people to know that studying literature is more important now than it’s ever been. During tough economic times and periods of rapid social change, there’s a tendency to discount the humanities and the arts in favor of more ‘practical’ studies. But we can’t simply build or litigate or formulate our way out of tough times; we have to dream our way out of them too. I firmly believe—and strive to demonstrate in my teaching—that literature provides the best means of projecting imagined realities and envisioning futures that might one day become our world.
Who or what has influenced you the most in your professional career?
The greatest single influence on my academic career happens to be a man I never met: the novelist Ralph Ellison, author of the 1952 classic Invisible Man. I was a teenager when Ellison passed away in 1994. Soon thereafter, I found myself, as a college sophomore, in an unlikely circumstance: working closely with Ellison’s newly-appointed literary executor in reconstructing the unpublished, unfinished second novel that Ellison had begun more than forty years prior. Through Ellison’s example, I came to understand the challenge of the writer’s craft, the inevitability of failure, and the persistence that is the necessary precondition to success.
What do you enjoy about being part of the English Department at CU-Boulder?
CU-Boulder’s English Department is a supportive community of scholars, both professors and students included. It’s a place that supports the kinds of intellectual leaps of faith that lead to innovation. Maybe it’s the clear mountain air or all of these sunny days, but I feel unbounded here. This is the perfect place to come up with a blueprint—for a book, for a course, or, in my case, for a lab—and build it into reality.
What is your favorite book?/Who is your favorite author? Why? Or, can you recommend three books that you think everyone should read?
My job affords me the luxury of experiencing great works of art and sharing them with others on a daily basis. It’s too painful for me to name just one favorite book or even one favorite author. I will do this, though. Here are three entries from my ever-expanding required reading/listening list, one old and two new: (1) Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (a book about a young woman’s coming of age in the rural South that is animated by Hurston’s experiments in voice), (2) Adrian Matejka’s The Big Smoke (this National Book Award-finalist’s latest poetry collection reanimates the life and times of the great boxer Jack Johnson as a way of telling the story of race and nation in the early 20th century), (3) Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City (an urban opus from perhaps the most technically sophisticated—aka, the dopest—MC in the rap game).