English master's graduate honored with posthumous publishing of MFA thesis

English master's graduate honored with posthumous publishing of MFA thesis

By Grace Mertz /

As the oldest literary magazine in the nation, the North American Review (NAR) has published work from acclaimed authors of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Its most recent project is the publishing of Stellaphasia, the final poetry collection of a recently passed University of Northern Iowa alumnus.

Jason Bradford (English MA, 2012) passed away in early 2016 at the age of 27, but his life remains an inspiration to writers and creatives of all kinds. A talented poet, Bradford suffered from muscular dystrophy, an experience which shaped his perspective on life, nature, and opportunities.

“He was not only someone who was very smart, but he challenged people [as well],” said Dr. Jeremy Schraffenberger, a professor in UNI’s Department of Languages and Literatures and one of the editors of the NAR. “[He] made me reconsider everything.”

“Despite his disability...when [Jason] spoke, even if he wasn’t speaking very loudly, what he said was very significant,” continued Schraffenberger.

Bradford centered his work on the natural world, putting his own twist on a subject popular among poets across the ages.

While many environmental poets emphasize the tangible and visible objects in nature, such as rivers and forests, Bradford also set his sights on galaxies and stars, describing the wonder and majesty of the greater universe.

“He had this unique perspective as somebody with a disability who thought about his body in a different way...in the natural world,” Schraffenberger noted.

“If you don’t have that direct access [to nature], how does that change what you say? He was pushing me as a professor and a teacher to think differently about my discipline and my assumptions. I think that’s what he did for a lot of people in the department.”

During his time at UNI, Bradford wrote constantly, developing and refining his voice as a poet. The university honored his outstanding work with the publication of a chapbook of poetry (The Inhabitants, 2013, Final Thursday Press).

After he received his MA from UNI, Bradford went on to pursue his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where he became the poetry editor for the journal Ecotone.

Like many other writers and teachers, Bradford found UNI to be a dynamic launching pad for his career. He was one of many English graduates who have pursued MFA degrees.

Other options open to UNI’s English MA graduates include high school teaching, library science, professional editing, freelance writing, and, of course, creative writing and publishing. NAR offers students opportunities to explore all of these areas during their programs.

Tragically, Bradford passed away before he could complete his MFA. The University of North Carolina Wilmington honored Bradford with a posthumous conferral, but his thesis, entitled Stellaphasia, remained unpublished.

To memorialize the poet’s final days, Bradford’s mother, Shirley Niedermann, and Dr. Schraffenberger decided to publish Stellaphasia through the NAR Press.

Stellaphasia, a book of poetry, is a reference to Bradford’s love for the stars (stella) and his lifelong difficulty with spoken communication (aphasia). The book itself is a culminating reflection on Bradford’s life and career as a writer with a disability.

“What better way to honor the work than to publish it?” said Schraffenberger. He hoped that Bradford’s perspective could inspire readers in their own lives and work.

The project will allow current graduate students to view the entire publishing process as they help design and edit the poetry collection. Students will also have the opportunity to connect with the legacy of an alum and strength their own relationships to the English program.

Bradford continues to impact UNI, even after his passing.

“He had a knowledge of his mortality,” Schraffenberger noted. “He approached life knowing that he may not live as long as other people. So that changed the decisions he might make.”

Dr. Schraffenberger plans to fund the publishing effort through a crowdfunding campaign. Once funds have been gathered, the North American Review will publish Stellaphasia through the NAR Press.

To learn more about the North American Review and the publishing process, visit the NAR website.