“After that night I thought, ‘I didn’t know people really did this, and this is what I want to do,’” says Michael Bradford of the first time he saw live theater. Now head of the Department of Dramatic Arts in the School of Fine Arts and artistic director of the Connecticut Repertory Theatre, Bradford ’98 (BGS) was then a systems operator in the Navy.
Bradford grew up in Arkansas City, Kansas, and later moved to San Jose, California. He remembers reading stories about American history and the African-American poetry of writers such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, and Sonia Sanchez that he found in books collected by his mother. He wanted to become an English teacher.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to write the great American novel,’” he recalls. “When I started reading those works, I thought, ‘Poetry is where I really want to live.’ I wrote a lot of bad poetry in those days, but I loved it.”
No one in his family had ever gone to college. After high school, Bradford sold encyclopedias, worked in fast food restaurants, and then had a series of jobs through an employment agency in San Jose, where he told the person in charge of hiring that he liked to read and write. “She said, ‘This is not a brainpower job,’” says Bradford, with a smile.
Having initially turned down an invitation to join the U.S. Navy from a recruiter he met during a chance encounter, Bradford reconsidered, wanting that “brainpower job.” He enlisted.
It was during a posting in Seattle, while on a date, that he ended up at the theater. He wanted to see a jazz quartet, but his date had tickets to see “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” August Wilson’s landmark play about the African-American experience in the 20th century. For Bradford, the performance was life changing.
Read the rest of the story at magazine.uconn.edu .