Jerry Bradley was born in Jacksboro, Texas, in 1948, the son of a career U.S. Army veteran. After spending his early youth in various military towns (including Camp Bullis where his father was range commander), he moved with his parents and two older siblings to Mineral Wells after his father's retirement.

Jerry graduated from Mineral Wells High School in 1965 and attended Midwestern University (now Midwestern State University) in Wichita Falls as a member of the Honors Program, graduating with a B.A. in English in 1969. At Midwestern, he was student body president, editor of The Wichitan (the student newspaper), and a successful intercollegiate debater.

He then enrolled in the graduate English program at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. For two years there he was a resident advisor in the athletic dormitory, and for two more years he was head resident of the Tom Brown Dormitory Living-Learning Experiment. He also won the inaugural student writing contest sponsored by the Texas Association of Creative Writing Teachers. He earned his M.A. in 1973 and his Ph.D. in 1975.

After graduating from T.C.U., Bradley embarked on a distinguished career as a university professor, administrator, scholar, and creative writer at a series of institutions, a career that began as an assistant professor at Boston University. He then moved to New Mexico Tech, where he became chair of the Department of Humanities. At New Mexico Tech he co-founded (with Prof. John Rothfork) and edited for seventeen years New Mexico Humanities Review, which became one of the most distinguished journals of Southwestern letters. He also published his first volume of poetry, Simple Versions of Disaster (University of North Texas Press), a collection that was greeted with wide acclaim.

In 1993 Bradley became Dean of Humanities at Indiana University Southeast before returning to Texas to chair the Department of English at West Texas A&M University in Canyon where six years later he was inducted into the prestigious Texas Institute of Letters. Besides teaching classes and overseeing remarkable growth in the department, he was an active member of Panhandle Professional Writers and founded the West Texas A&M summer writing program which drew students and writers from across the state to campus for two weeks of intensive literary activity. He also began his voluntary -- and continuing -- service as poetry editor of Concho River Review, a literary magazine sponsored by the English Department at Angelo State University.

After seven years in Canyon, Bradley became Dean of Graduate Studies, Associate Vice-President of Research, Director of International Programs, and Professor of English at Lamar University in Beaumont, where he continues to teach and write. In 2014 he was named a Piper Professor by the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation as one of the top ten professors in Texas. He was also selected as University Professor, the highest faculty award at Lamar. He is married to the architectural historian Barrie Scardino Bradley.