You can smell the coffee long before you reach the room. The heady scent of “Eight 0’Clock Coffee” wafting down the halls of the EFLJ department beckons students to the Canvas office for a jolt of caffeine and inspiration. The tiny classroom is an oasis in Eder Hall where great minds of the English department congregate to ponder structure, transitions and creativity in the interest of publishing art. Students gather tightly around a long table crammed into the narrow room, huddling over manuscripts and poems that have been submitted for review. But they aren’t just editing, the goal is to refine a submission and push the contributor to their best. This is the room that Ryan Bradley calls his office.
For many people at Western, the most memorable thing about Ryan Bradley is his distinctive style. His trademark Fedora and trench coat are nearly iconic in Eder Hall. On any given day Bradley can be spotted striding down the corridors of the English department in his red Converse sneakers, carrying a book and a tiny Styrofoam cup of black coffee.
“It’s the first thing people see,” Writer’s Circle advisor Meg Thompson said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re open minded or shallow. It’s part of our culture. And when you see Ryan Bradley in a herd of undergraduates you’re like, ‘Who?! What?!’”
Missouri Western junior Ryan Bradley is the editor of Canvas, Missouri Western’s student-run literary magazine. Despite being an annual publication, every issue requires nearly a year of work and dedication. Bradley considers it gratifying work to discover new writers who he describes as unpolished. Bradley believes that working with other artists’ potential is what makes Canvas so effective. The success of the publication is that contributers can submit work they consider representative of their craft.
Canvas is more than just a literary magazine for Bradley. It is an opportunity for Western students to see their work recognized and published. Bradley respects art in all forms, so he has made a point of pushing Canvas to seek submissions outside of the English department. Bradley considers seeking submissions of a varied range of art forms like slam poetry and graphic art to be a priority for the publication.
“I think that diversity just makes for a more interesting publication and I think that it also makes for a better view of humanity,” Bradley said.
For Bradley, the priority isn’t solely to only publish the best of the best at Western. It’s about cultivating an art form. Students shouldn’t ever feel that their work is not good enough for Canvas.
“Thelonious Monk actually said, ‘Make a mistake and let the public pick it up,’” Bradley said. “So you can be raw and you can express your own voice with it. Young writers do it fantastically with the things we get in and that feels amazing,”
Bradley didn’t come to college bound for the literary track. Enrolling in college gave him an opportunity to find himself and focus on his interests. He found that he was most drawn to English classes. However, Bradley initially came to Missouri Western from Central High School on a robotics scholarship.
“I enjoyed it, kind of,” Bradley said. “But essentially it paid the bills. It wasn’t my passion.”
His commitment to writing hasn’t always translated into enjoying his undergraduate studies. He describes low points and feeling as if the pursuit of a Bachelor of Arts would take literally, forever. He talks about the phases that writers and students go through that effect passion and productivity.
“I think we all get to the point in our college careers where we essentially go through the dark woods,” Bradley said. “We start thinking, ‘Oh god, did I take the right path? Am I doing what I actually want to do? Maybe I should have just bit the bullet and become an accountant. Then I’d be miserable but I’d have money.’”
Thompson says she wouldn’t be surprised if Bradley didn’t always “triumph” in the traditional classroom because he would likely thrive better in a more nontraditional environment.
“Traditional classrooms are kind of boring,” Thompson said. “You have to know how to work with the system. It’s busy work, bullshit, and a lot of hoop-jumping.”
Bradley jokes about his class attendance records, and in somes cases, the lack thereof. But he cites Canvas as being the class that kept him inspired and going to class. In the midst of undergraduate studies, it was a class he didn’t want to miss because it intellectually challenged him.
Now at the helm of the publication, Bradley feels really good about the choices he’s made. He acknowledges a future in literature, but is unsure of what capacity it will be. He is unsure if he is prepared to call himself a writer yet.
“There’s a little bit of pretention with calling yourself a writer that I try to avoid,” Bradley jokes. “It makes it sound like you smoke a pipe and wear a beret.”
But he acknowledges that despite trepidation for adopting a label that he is a writer. Bradley considers a more detailed description to be more accurate. He considers himself an editor, an intern, and a student. But reluctantly, he will also label himself a writer.
“I wish it could be stripped of some of the pretentiousness that’s around it,” Bradley said. “I wish that I could just be called a guy who writes. But it’s not quite as eloquent.”