Bruce grew up in Lorain. After serving in the Vietnam War, he attended a local community college. One of his professors there encouraged him to transfer to Oberlin College, and he did during his sophomore year. He was the first person in his family to attend college.
At Oberlin, Bruce majored in English, participating in the beginnings of the creative writing program by taking workshops. "The great thing about Oberlin when I was there," he says, "was that our teachers really enabled us - no matter what you wanted to do. So if you wanted to write a play: go write a play. Here are the actors, here's the teacher." Bruce believes that the most important thing in a creative writing program is the treatment of students as serious writers. If young writers are treated as real writers, he says, they will begin to think like real writers, and have higher and higher expectations for themselves. The most important part of his experience at Oberlin was he was "enabled" by his professors, Bruce says, and he did everything he could: he wrote and directed a play, he worked on films, he worked on the literary magazine, and as a senior he taught a creative writing workshop for underclassmen. He has no regrets, he says, because he did everything.
Bruce learned early on that it was essential to change. Philip Levine visited Oberlin while Bruce was here and taught him what remains valuable for him as a writer today: "He said that what you always had to do was you always had make it difficult." As soon as things start to get easy, Bruce tries to change what he is doing. Art comes from struggles, he believes, from solving problems, from questions. Buddhism intervened in his writing career about 15 years ago, as living a Buddhist life changed the way he saw the world. He writes poems in short spurts throughout the day, writing a few lines and setting it down, picking it back up hours later and adding a few more. For him, it's a way of being attuned to many things going on at once. "That becomes part of one fabric... it may not always be connected but eventually I can find these threads that come from the same... from my consciousness, I guess."
Though he does not set out to communicate in a poem, Bruce says that communication is a valuable part of poetry: "I think primarily it's the idea that there's something very powerful about the human spirit to endure, and I've most often written about ordinary people in extraordinary situations." Art, says Bruce, allows people to rise above the darkness, to take charge of their stories, of their own narratives. If people understand that from reading his work, he feels like he was successful.