In her third book of essays, Georgia Author of the Year Award winner Kathy Bradley continues to ask important questions about humanity, community, and stewardship. In this episode, Peter and Orlando discuss this "rare gem" of a book, the difficulties and art of writing against a deadline, and finding meaning and metaphor in the simplest things. 

Sifting Artifacts: Essays by Kathy A. Bradley
Credit: Mercer University Press


Peter Biello: Coming up in this episode.

Orlando Montoya: How can that be interesting? How is that not boring? And...

Peter Biello:  Yeah, sell it to me, man. What's going on here?

Orlando Montoya: She's finding, like, meaning and inner truth, larger questions in, like, the simplest things.

Kathy Bradley: Words have always been my preferred manner of not just communication, but of understanding things. I operate with a great deal of curiosity.

Peter Biello: It strikes me that she's using what T.S. Eliot called the objective correlative. Is that something you've heard of or is that just for writer school types?

Orlando Montoya: This podcast from Georgia Public Broadcasting highlights books with Georgia Connections, hosted by two of your favorite public radio book nerds, who also happen to be your hosts of All Things Considered on GPB radio. I'm Orlando Montoya.

Peter Biello: And I'm Peter Biello. Thanks for joining us. As we introduce you to authors, their writings, and the insights behind the stories mixed with our own thoughts and ideas on just what gives these works the Narrative Edge. Okay, Orlando, what book are you recommending for me today?

Orlando Montoya: Well, Peter, I got something different. It's not a book. It is a book. I am going to get to a book. But what I'm really talking about here today is a writer. Her name is Kathy Bradley. She's from Bulloch County. She's a columnist for the Statesboro Herald. And she's been writing, every 14 days, a column in that newspaper since 1996 with only a two-year break.

Peter Biello: Wow. Okay.

Orlando Montoya: And she has a book. It's called Sifting Artifacts. That's a collection of her essays. I've got it right here. But so today we're not talking about a story with, like a beginning, a middle and an end. There's no, like, topic that we normally dive into here other than the writer, Kathy Bradley.

Peter Biello: Okay. And I know you spent 23 years in Savannah covering Southeast Georgia, including Bulloch County. Is this how you know her?

Orlando Montoya: You know what? I have to be honest, I only vaguely remember the name Kathy Bradley. I must have seen the Statesboro Herald, must have seen her name. But I actually found her by just Googling authors, and I found out she is a three-time Georgia writer of the year selectee. And it's really just surprising that there's not really a lot about her out there. So once you find, you know, something that you think is a rare gem and nobody else is talking about this person, like, yeah, you want to champion that person.

Peter Biello: Okay. Well, consider her championed on this podcast. What speaks to you about her writing?

Orlando Montoya: Well, there's a lot to say. First of all, it's very nature-based. She lives on a farm. She's lived on a farm for 50 years. There's a lot of stillness in her writing, so there's not a lot of grand action. It's not, like, murder — compared to what we normally read and focus on this podcast, it really is quite a change. Very contemplative. Not slow. It's not slow because we're talking about 250-word essays. It's more like poetry. And you know how I like poetry.

Peter Biello: Yeah.

Orlando Montoya: So it's the it's the art of column writing. Which, for her, is a release.

Kathy Bradley: It allows me an opportunity to process what is going on around me, not just in my particular life, but in the, um — the community around me, the world around me. You know, what I'm experiencing. Words have always been my preferred manner of not just communication, but of — of understanding things. You know, I operate with a great deal of curiosity. And when something comes to my mind and I need to know the answer to it, I need to be able to put it into words.

Orlando Montoya: So think about that 250 words every 14 days. Tick tock, tick tock. Deadline. We know deadlines.

Peter Biello: Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Orlando Montoya: But this column writing every 14 days, 250 words is — like I said, it takes a special kind of talent. And she's got three books of essays. The latest one is called Sifting Artifacts, and she's working on another one as well. It's going to be a little bit different.

Peter Biello: And you said she's very nature-based. How so? Can you give me an example?

Orlando Montoya: Well, like I said, she spent 50 years on a farm. She moved to —

Peter Biello: So she's writing about the animals she keeps or the plants she's growing.

Orlando Montoya: She's writing about like walking around in the woods. She's write — I took a — when I was reading this book, I made, like, a list of her topics, and it was like sunsets, buzzards, cotton, the change of seasons, the leaves, walking in the woods. You're like, "How can that be interesting? How is that not boring?" And...

Peter Biello:  Yeah, sell it to me, man. What's going on here?

Orlando Montoya: She's finding, like, meaning and inner truth. Larger questions in, like, the simplest things.

Peter Biello: So for, like, for example?

Orlando Montoya: So for example, in one of her essays, she writes about a funeral parlor fan. So you've been to some Southern funerals, maybe?

Peter Biello: I have never been to a Southern funeral, which is sort of a shortcoming for me. I guess I need to experience, that part of Southern culture.

Orlando Montoya: They might take place in the summer and it's very, very hot. And they will give you a fan, a little fan to wave on yourself. Right. And I'm sure you've seen the pictures of like church people there fanning themselves.

Peter Biello: You sometimes think that's just a movie thing.

Orlando Montoya: No.

Peter Biello: This Yankee thinks "oh that's just a something a Southern director made up to convince them we're in the South."

Orlando Montoya: No, no, it's it's a fan. And and so she takes — she's talking about this fan and she says "a comfort: That's what the fan is." Not in a physical way, but in the way of being a solace in an uncertain world. Take this thin, yet sturdy piece of cardboard with balsa wood handle and be reminded that some things last. It won't keep you cool, but it will keep you sure.

Peter Biello: Okay.

Orlando Montoya: So I mean, that's just poetry to me. Another essay, she talks about a grapefruit and it becomes a meditation on death. In another essay, she talks about a drive in the countryside, and it becomes about the nature of time. She talks about the memory of JFK's assassination, and that becomes a story about storytelling. So she talks a lot in metaphors.

Kathy Bradley: Usually what happens is I spend an awful lot of time outside, and usually I will be outside either taking a walk or just sitting on the porch or something. And I will notice a particular object or the movement of the leaf or the way a bird lands somewhere. And it sort of highlights itself. And I become captured by it, quite frankly. And I stare at it, listen to it long enough that I begin to see the metaphor. And I realize that I'm — I'm learning something I didn't know I knew.

Peter Biello: It strikes me that she's using what T.S. Eliot called the objective correlative. Is that something you've heard of or is that just for writers' school types?

Orlando Montoya: I've never heard of that.

Peter Biello: Essentially, it's a technique that — that writers, poets often use. So it seems appropriate here if she's, you know, writing in a way that evokes poetry for you. It's that if you focus long enough on on a tiny, tiny detail, how you feel about that thing or the the universal subject buried in that thing according to you and your subconscious is just naturally going to come out. Seems like that's what she's doing there.

Orlando Montoya: That's what she's doing. Exactly.

Peter Biello: Does she always sort of mind the right thing or do you feel ever that she's kind of stretching it to make a point to fill that deadline, as you said?

Orlando Montoya: Not really. I read this entire book, right? It's got, like — I must have read like about four or five years' worth of her essays. And there's — there's just not a dud in the bunch to me. And if it were me and you and somebody asked me to put all my work together for the last four years, I'd have to, like, seriously edit it, get out the duds. But I don't get any duds in this one.

Peter Biello: Wow. So tell me more about her language. You said it was like poetry. Can you give me an example of her poetry?

Orlando Montoya: Well, I think that all the essays are different, but there's a lot of them that have rhythm, a rhythm in the the words of the phrases. And she also uses what I'll call "country language," words that are specifically about countryside things. Words like "fence row" and "pennyroyal" and "sawtooth oak." I mean, I just love these words because I don't use them. And I asked her if she was aware of this language use in her work.


Kathy Bradley: And I will say yes and no. I realize from having conversations with, with people like you that I use words that are unfamiliar to them but very familiar to me. But at the same time, when I'm writing, I try not to be conscious of it because I want what I'm writing to sound like me — conversational. And those are the words I use in conversation, particularly with my family and neighbors and that kind of thing. But when I go back and read it again, I realize what I've done and I hope I've written well enough that people can figure out what a fence row is. If they've never seen that word or they, they can figure out what a sawtooth oak looks like.

Peter Biello: I have no idea what a sawtooth oak looks like, but I can imagine an oak. Close enough?

Orlando Montoya: I can envision a fence row.

Peter Biello: A row of fences?

Orlando Montoya: I — and — but the way the way it's written, it it just all fits and it works.

Peter Biello: Mm hmm. Okay. So is she a farmer? Like, when she's not doing these columns? Is she actually like —

Orlando Montoya: She is a retired lawyer? Can you believe it or not? 

Peter Biello: Okay. I can imagine. Then why she would want to sort of seek refuge in the opposite of a courthouse, which is a farm.

Orlando Montoya: She's lived on her farm, her family farm for 50 years, but she retired as a lawyer four years ago. She spent 38 years in practice, 19 years in private practice and 19 years as a prosecuting attorney in juvenile court. And the interesting thing is that none of that comes out in her writing. So in her writing, there's like very few, like, inside scenes, like, there's very few like "I'm at a shopping mall" or "I'm in an urban setting" or "I'm inside" somewhere. She's usually outside somewhere or talking about relationships with other people. Now, of course, she can't write about her attorney-client matters, especially in juvenile court, but she's a very curious person, and that comes across in her writing. She uses metaphor a lot, and I imagine that she would find curiosity and metaphor in the work that she does as a lawyer, but she just — she just can't write about it.

Kathy Bradley: I tend to be very empathetic. And if I were to write much about other people, I would — I would have to be very careful of their feelings. And I think that if I have any any identifying quality at all in my writing, it is that I am willing to be vulnerable and open. And I have the right to do that with regard to myself and my own experiences. But I don't have the right to do that to other people. The book that I'm working on now, I'm changing some names. It's a little different from the first three books and and I'm changing names in it because I, I don't have the right to tell somebody else's story. I only have the right to tell mine.

Orlando Montoya: Now, the reason that's interesting to me is because that's the opposite of what you and I do, right?

Peter Biello: Right. We're trying to put people on the record with their name out there.

Orlando Montoya: And I try to keep myself out of the story. And it's all about the story and that other person, right? So this is completely the opposite of what I do. And so maybe that's one reason I'm attracted to it, because it is — it is so interior.

Peter Biello: I'm trying to think of the state of mind I would have to be in to pick up a book like this. And I'm sort of thinking of like, you know, long days of work where I'm just immersed in the city and I just want quiet and I just want to be away from people for a little while, and I just want someone to paint a setting for me so that I feel like I've just been dropped into it.

Orlando Montoya: Yeah, this book is certainly something to calm your spirit.

Peter Biello: It's reminding me of — not having read it, just having you describe it to me — it's reminding me of a couple of things. Both of them from Vermont, actually, which is also big into the farming life, right? One is a writer, Chris Bohjalian. Do you know Chris Bohjalian?

Orlando Montoya: No.

Peter Biello: He's fairly popular. He writes novels. His novel, Midwives, was an Oprah selection back in the day. Anyway, he wrote a column which seems similar to what she's writing. It was called "Idyll Banter" — I-D-Y-L-L Banter — where he's writing about sort of small-town Vermont life in the way that it seems like that she's writing about small Georgia farm life. And the other one is, is David Budbill, who was a poet and playwright. He died a few years ago, and he wrote kind of the meditative poems where he really honed in on simple objects around his, his rural mountainside home. Sounds pretty similar. So I mention all this because if writers are already, like, tuned into this book and they're looking for something similar, I think those two would probably meet at — the columns by Chris Bohjalian, not his novels.

Orlando Montoya: Well, I think that that it's great that you found an example of what she does or something similar.

Peter Biello: The first time anyone's compared Vermont to Georgia in the history of comparisons.

Orlando Montoya: There's a lot of similarities. A lot of similarities.

Peter Biello: Yeah, that's not — that's true. If you look for them there, they're there, I promise. So a lot of columnists, essayists in Georgia, in general, Orlando. What gives her the Narative Edge?

Orlando Montoya: Well, like I said, she's revealing herself. She's revealing the strangeness of her imaginings. And I don't find a dud in the book. Pick a date. Pick a date between Jan. 15 and Dec. 18.

Peter Biello: And you'll find one.

Orlando Montoya:  I'll find and I'll pick out an example here and read you something.

Peter Biello: Okay. Let's do Feb. 1.

Orlando Montoya: Okay. '15, '16, '17 or '18?

Peter Biello: '15. We'll just do '15. Feb. 1 [2015].

Orlando Montoya: "From inside the house, I can hear both sets of wind chimes clanging, harmonizing from opposite eves, dancing madly like Russian cossacks. The sun is high and the light is white. There is no good reason to stay inside. The ruts in the road have dried into peaks, crunchy beneath the footfalls that I am trying unsuccessfully to slow to a stroll. I am wondering, is the sky really the bluest sky I've ever seen?

Peter Biello: That does sound like poetry.

Orlando Montoya: And it goes on from there. Again. Very beautiful, poetic, still, meaningful, deep, all while talking about the most ordinary of things.

Kathy Bradley: I just try to be very aware of this moment. And someone asked me not long ago about the fact that my pieces are dated, you know, and why did I do that? And I had to stop and think about it because I hadn't really given it a whole lot of specific thought. But the idea that life — life is very — you know, "finite" is such a ridiculous word to use. But, but everything about it is. You know, I'm never going to be sitting here talking to you ever again. Not like this. Not with Benjamin sitting here very patiently listening to us and, and his cat moving around the apartment and the sunlight coming in exactly the way it is. It's never going to happen again. And one of the things that I try to do in my writing is to encourage people to, to understand that a little better than sometimes we do when we're running from jobs to children's ballet lessons to back to the house. You know, we — we get too busy. And I want people to take a moment and realize this is the only time you're ever going to have this moment. So to get back to your question, no, I don't run out of things because every day, every moment is different.

Orlando Montoya: All right. So she has three books of collected essays: Breathing and Walking Around; Wandering Towards Center; and the latest, released in 2022, called Sifting Artifacts. She's working on a next one. But you can also go to And every 14 days she drops a new column.

Peter Biello: Wow. Okay. Kathy Bradley, Sifting Artifacts. Orlando, thank you so much for sharing this. Really. We do appreciate it.

Orlando Montoya: It's been a pleasure. Thanks for listening to Narrative Edge. We'll be back in two weeks with a brand-new episode. This podcast is a production of Georgia Public Broadcasting. Find us online at

Peter Biello: You can also catch us on the daily GPB News podcast Georgia Today for a concise update on the latest news in Georgia. For more on that and all of our podcasts, go to