He attended University of California, Berkeley, and served as a first lieutenant in the Coast Artillery during World War I. He married Lydia Sehorn, divorcing her in July of 1933. He then married Mary Rose Sciarra Himler, also a writer, in Carlsbad, New Mexico. He was night city editor for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
Bradford continued to produce well-received work during the 1930s and early 1940s. He served in the U.S. Naval Reserve Bureau of Aeronautics Training during World War II. In 1946, he accepted a position as visiting lecturer in the English department at Tulane University in New Orleans.
On November 13, 1948, he died of amebic dysentery, believed to have been contracted while he was stationed in French West Africa in 1943. His cremated remains were spread over the waters of the Mississippi River.
At the time of his death, Bradford’s writings were very popular. Since the 1940s, however, much of his body of work has been reevaluated. Many criticize his work as patronizing and demeaning in its portrayal of black characters.
- 1927 O. Henry Award
- Ol' Man Adam an' His Chillun. Harper & Row. 1928.
- This Side of Jordan. Harper & brothers. 1929.
- How Come Christmas 1930 (reprint. Cherokee Pub. 1987. ISBN 978-0-87797-208-2.
- Ol' King David an' the Philistine Boys. Harper & Brothers. 1930.
- John Henry 1931 Reprint Steven Carl Tracy, ed. (2008). John Henry: Roark Bradford's novel and play. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-537104-8.
- Kingdom coming. Harper & Brothers. 1933.
- Let the Band Play Dixie 1934 (reprint. Books for Libraries Press. 1970. ISBN 978-0-8369-3612-4.)
- The Three-Headed Angel. Harper & brothers. 1937.
- Harold Courlander, ed. (2003). "The Birth of John Henry". A treasury of Afro-American folklore. Marlowe & Company. ISBN 978-1-56924-501-9.
- M. Thomas Inge, ed. (1999). "The Private World of William Faulkner". Conversations with William Faulkner. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1-57806-136-5.
- Eva Mae Burkett, ed. (1978). American English dialects in literature. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-0-8108-1151-5.
- Southern writers: a biographical dictionary, Robert Bain, Joseph M. Flora, Louis Decimus Rubin
- Federal Writers' Project (1947). Louisiana: a guide to the state. US History Publishers. ISBN 978-1-60354-017-9.