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Ray Bradbury,   1975

Photo Courtesy of Alan Light

Ray Bradbury, Supreme Storyteller

Ray Bradbury, author of numerous works of science-fiction,  was born on August 22nd 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois. As a fascinating piece of his history, he was descended from Mary Bradbury, who was tried, convicted and sentenced to hang in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. His ancestor managed, through her own stories and with the help of her husband and friends, to evade the sentence long enough that the trials were discredited and she was saved. She lived to the ripe old age of 85 and perhaps the stories she handed down through the generations influenced him more than he knew. He became a supreme storyteller, one who could hold a reader’s interest from the moment they opened one of his stories or books.

Early Influences

Bradbury’s early years were spent in Waukegan, where his aunt read short stories to him, taking him out of his world and into others. His imagination allowed him to visualize those worlds and influenced his early desire to become a writer. It’s said that he wrote stories at the tender age of 11, on butcher paper since he had no other kind. When the family later moved to Tucson, Arizona in 1926-1927,  they returned once briefly, to Waukegan, and then moved back to Tucson in 1932-1933.  In 1934 they moved to Los Angeles which delighted Bradbury, who at the age of 14, was smitten with Hollywood. He would roller skate through the community, hoping to meet someone famous. Hollywood at that time was actually a small town and actors and actresses could be seen on the streets like regular people. Bradbury met special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen and radio star George Burns. Bradbury’s first paying job was when he was 14 years old,  when he was hired by Burns to be a writer for the Burns & Allen Show.

As with most writers, Bradbury was an avid reader. He spent hours in the library reading his favorite authors H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Edgar Allan Poe. Strongly identifying with Verne’s stories, he said of the author:

“He believes the human being is in a strange situation in a very strange world, and he believes that we can triumph by behaving morally.”

 

This influence would show through time and again in Bradbury’s writing. His first published story “Hollerbochen’s Dilemma,” appeared January 1938  in a fanzine publication called Imagination! published by Forrest J. Ackerman. When WWII began, Bradbury was excused from service in the military due to poor eyesight. This gave him the freedom to continue his writing in this type of publication,  fanzines, which Wikipedia defines as “a nonprofessional and nonofficial publication produced by fans of a particular cultural phenomenon (such as a literary or musical genre) for the pleasure of others who share their interest.”  Ackerman, for whom he had produced his first story, invited him to attend the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society where he met writers of the genre such as Robert A. Heinlein, Emil Pataja, Frederic Brown and others. Networking helped him to know more about marketing his work. The first writing for which he actually received pay, was co-written with a man named Henry Hasse. It was titled “Pendulum,” published in Super Science Stories in 1941, for which he was paid $15.

First Story Sold

When he was 22 years old, he sold his first story, “The Lake,” for $13.75. By the end of 1942 he became a full-time writer and in 1947, his first collection of short stories was published under the title of “Dark Carnival.” Will Cuppy of the New York Times, in reviewing the collection, pronounced them “suitable for general consumption,” and predicted that his writing would be comparable to British fantasy author John Collier.

Bradbury received his share of rejections, notably one from the pulp Weird Tales, after which he submitted  “Homecoming” to Mademoiselle Magazine. Spotted in a slush pile by a young editorial assistant named Truman Capote, it was rescued and subsequently published, winning a place in the O. Henry Prize Stories of 1947.


The Stories of Ray Bradbury (Everyman’s Library (Cloth))

Bradbury would go on to write his riveting story of a book-burning future “The Fireman,” on a rented typewriter in UCLA’s Powell Library. The story ran to 25,000 words long. It would later be published as 50,000 words with the name “Fahrenheit 451,”  at a cost to Bradbury of $9.80 cents for the library’s rental fee of 10-cents per half-hour. “Fahrenheit 451” is still today a standard for science fiction stories, one that is used and taught in creative writing in many universities.


Fahrenheit 451: A Novel

Ironically, Bradbury spoke of his time spent in libraries in this quote:

 

“Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

 

Ray Bradbury in 1959

Photo Credit

Bradbury went on to write science-fiction stories most of us are familiar with; “The Martian Chronicles,” “The Illustrated Man,” “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” “The Halloween Tree,” and more. His stories have been converted to movies, comic books, and even cartoons. His stories are always those that stay with us long after they’re read. People even quote from his books, using them as references for modern day events. He didn’t consider himself a sci-fi writer, refusing to be labeled as such.

“First of all, I don’t write science fiction. I’ve only done one science fiction book and that’s Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. It was named so to represent the temperature at which paper ignites. Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it’s fantasy. It couldn’t happen, you see? That the reason it’s going to be around a long time ~ because it’s a Greek myth and myths have staying power.” ~ Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury began his journey into the unknown on the day he died, June 5th 2012, at the age of 91. In my mind’s eye I see him delightedly spinning stories to any and all in the afterlife, because it was what he was noted for, it was his life since he was young. A dear friend, Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek went before him and it’s good to think those two spirits who so loved writing and fantasy could be inspiring each other for their next story.

Bradbury Willed His Personal Library To His Hometown Library

Bradbury willed his personal library to the Waukegan Public Library where he honed his craft immersed in the stories of other writers he so admired. He has 27 novels, and more than 600 short stories to his credit. His work is published in more than 36 languages around the world, selling more than 8 million copies. Not bad for a supreme storyteller from Waukegan, Illinois.

Statue to honor Ray Bradbury erected at Waukegan Public Library, August 2019

Created by Sculptor Zachary Oxman, the statue features Bradbury waving a book while sitting on a rocket ship going into space. It was inspired by Bradbury’s poem, “If Only We Had Taller Been“:

Short man. Large dream. I send my rockets forth
between my ears,
Hoping an inch of Will is worth a pound of years.

Ray Bradbury is buried in Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles, CA. //www.findagrave.com/memorial/20679865/ray-bradbury

He was 91 years old when he passed and authored over 500 titles, including novels, plays, children’s books and short stories


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Hardin is a writer, author, journalist, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She is also a veteran of the Vietnam War era Women’s Army Corps.