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In Memoriam: Matthew Wade Bradley, 1970 - 2012

Kara Nicole BaylessWe are saddened to announce that Dr. Matthew Wade Bradley, a graduate of the Indiana Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, died unexpectedly March 20, 2012 in Sandy, Utah, after an accident at his home. Matt’s generosity, good humor, incisive commentary, passionate teaching, and social advocacy will be sorely missed. He was 41.

Matt entered the Indiana University graduate program in Folklore as part of the stellar class of 1996.* Active in the Folklore Student Association and a number of Bloomington civic efforts, Matt performed regularly at coffeehouse events and was known, more than once, to instruct fellow students in the pleasures of Western swing. He could often be found in the folkpub offices at the Stith Thompson house, where he took his turn directing Folklore Forum and Trickster Press, kept the mac updated, and plotted new department bumper stickers and t-shirts. Among the favorites are one shirt that revealed Claude Lévi-Strauss’s formula for myth, and another that reproduced the ever-helpful diagram of dramatis personae found on page 47 of Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale. Matt was fond of rambling Greene County, whether on foot with his trusty dog Blue, in the seat of the motorcycle he built by hand, or in the company of bicycling colleagues who fended off rogue farm dogs with well-placed squirts from their water bottles. Occasionally, he even found a horse to ride.

Both his Indiana University master’s thesis, “Partners in Cinema: Video-documentary and Youth Identity” (2001), and his dissertation, “A Journey against the Tides: Documentary Film Production as Critical Pedagogical Practice and Counterstory” (2008), explore how ethnographic methods and folklore theory can help shape social perceptions and public policy. The projects grew out of Matt’s work with marginalized youth in Indiana and Utah, where he encouraged teens and young adults to respond to deficit models by documenting their own communities and telling their own stories. Convincing the university Human Subjects Committee to let him work with these ‘vulnerable populations’ was difficult and frustrating, but he persevered. During this period, and as part of the Sundance Institute’s Youth Documentary Workshop at Spy Hop Productions, Matt helped high school students produce films that shared what it was like, for instance, to be a Somali refugee or the child of Tongan immigrants. While finishing his doctorate, Matt also completed a second master’s degree in culture, education, and society at the University of Utah. His work exemplifies the ways that folklore scholars can contribute to and learn from interdisciplinary discourses and intercommunity action.

An award-winning teacher known for his emphasis on equity, collaboration, and community building, Matt took seriously Paulo Freire’s ideal of pedagogy as liberatory strategy. While in residence at IU, he taught folklore in Bloomington and Indianapolis; later, after returning home to Utah, he often biked from Salt Lake City into the West Desert in order to teach writing and humanities at the Utah State University Tooele campus. At the University of Utah, he first taught composition and folklore courses in the English department, then began to lecture in the Honors College, where he directed the Honors Social Justice Scholars cohort, the Honors Think Tank on Social Change (a two-semester experiential learning program), and the Mestizo Arts and Activism collective (a collaborative project that encourages young people to integrate community-based arts, research, and education as tools for civic engagement and social change).

A leader, artist, and community volunteer since his high school days, Matt was deeply and actively involved in a range of social issues, from labor rights to wilderness preservation, and he was a dedicated advocate for undocumented students, LGBTQ youth, and people of color. He could give a good lecture, but he could also throw a good party, emphasizing through praxis that music, dancing, talk, and even a particularly delicious home-grown tomato have the power to bridge divides and shape attitudes.

His courage and optimism repeatedly inspired those around him. Diagnosed with a rare and aggressive cancer, Matt said goodbye to “Righty” (his right foot and calf) in 2010 but returned to the classroom just ten days after surgery and, with the help of a prosthetic limb, qualified for a spot on the U.S. Paralympic Cycling National team ten months later. He competed for Team USA at the 2011 Para-Cycling World Championships in Denmark and was training for the 2012 Paralympic Cycling Team Trials in June. Matt also organized and participated in numerous charity events, including Utah Cyclocross’s Cross Out Cancer rides and the Run for Bun, a 5K fundraising event that helped build a paved trail in honor of his sister-in-law Elizabeth “Bunny” Bradley, who was killed while cycling in 2010.

In the hours and days following news of Matt’s untimely passing, his facebook page teemed with accolades from students, cancer survivors, athletes, artists, scholars, and activists. He will be remembered for his ready smile, his impressive collection of hats and varied constellations of facial hair, and his ability to combine laughter with impassioned stances on important social issues. We miss him already.

Danille Christensen

Online condolences may be shared with the family here. Matt's obituary can be found here.

Donations in Matt's honor may be made to The Huntsman Cancer Foundation or to the Mestizo Institute of Art and Culture.

*Fellow students in the entering class of 1996 were Troy Boyer, Melinda Collins, Jeff Cupchik, John Fenn, Christie Fox, Lisa Gabbert, Kathleen Glenister, Amy Goldenberg, Meagan Hassell, Kurt Hartwig, Sachi Kokamoto, Andy Kolovos, Hien Nguyen, Cecelia Obeng, Stephen Olbrys, Glenn Ostlund, Alex Perullo, John Roleke, Stephanie Shonekan, Stacy Tidmore, Natalie Underberg, Margaret van Blaricom, Tracie Wilson, and Joan Zaretti.