Who Was Ray Bradbury?
Ray Bradbury was an American fantasy and horror author who rejected being categorized as a science fiction author, claiming that his work was based on the fantastical and unreal. His best known novel is Fahrenheit 451, a dystopian study of future American society in which critical thought is outlawed. He is also remembered for several other popular works, including The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury won the Pulitzer in 2007, and is one of the most celebrated authors of the 21st century.
Author Ray Douglas Bradbury was born on August 22, 1920, in Waukegan, Illinois, to Leonard Spaulding Bradbury, a lineman for power and telephone utilities, and Ester Moberg Bradbury, a Swedish immigrant. Bradbury enjoyed a relatively idyllic childhood in Waukegan, which he later incorporated into several semi-autobiographical novels and short stories. As a child, he was a huge fan of magicians, and a voracious reader of adventure and fantasy fiction — especially L. Frank Baum, Jules Verne and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Bradbury decided to become a writer at about age 12 or 13. He later said that he made the decision in hopes of emulating his heroes, and to "live forever" through his fiction.
Bradbury's family moved to Los Angeles, California in 1934. As a teenager, he participated in his school's drama club and occasionally befriended Hollywood celebrities. His first official pay as a writer came for contributing a joke to George Burns' Burns & Allen Show. After graduation from high school in 1938, Bradbury couldn't afford to go to college, so he went to the local library instead. "Libraries raised me," he later said. "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."
Books and Short Stories
To support himself while he wrote, Bradbury sold newspapers. He published his first short story in a fan magazine in 1938, the same year he graduated from high school. The next year, he published four issues of his own fan magazine, Futuria Fantasia. Nearly every piece in the magazine was written by Bradbury himself; he used a variety of pseudonyms to try to hide the fact that the magazine was a virtual one-man show. "I was still years away from writing my first good short story," he later said, "but I could see my future. I knew where I wanted to go."
Bradbury sold his first professional piece, the story "Pendulum," in November 1941, just a month before the United States entered World War II, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Ruled ineligible for military service by his local draft board because of his vision problems, Bradbury became a full-time writer by early 1943. His first collection of short stories, Dark Carnival, was published in 1947.
That same year, he married Marguerite "Maggie" McClure, whom he met while she was working as a clerk at a bookstore. McClure was the breadwinner in the early days of their marriage, supporting Bradbury as he worked on his writing for little to no pay. The couple had four daughters, Susan (1949), Ramona (1951), Bettina (1955) and Alexandra (1958).
In 1950, Bradbury published his first major work, The Martian Chronicles, which detailed the conflict between humans colonizing the red planet and the native Martians they encountered there. While taken by many to be a work of science fiction, Bradbury himself considered it to be fantasy. "I don't write science fiction," he said. "Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it's fantasy. It couldn't happen, you see?" Television and comic book adaptations of Bradbury's short stories began to appear in 1951, introducing him to a wider audience.
Bradbury's best-known work, Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953, became an instant classic in the era of McCarthyism for its exploration of themes of censorship and conformity. In 2007 Bradbury himself disputed that censorship was the main theme of Fahrenheit 451, instead explaining the book as a story about how television drives away interest in reading: "Television gives you the dates of Napoleon, but not who he was."
Despite his apparent distaste for television, Bradbury advocated for film adaptations of his work. He wrote numerous screenplays and treatments, including a 1956 take on Moby Dick. In 1986, Bradbury developed his own HBO television series, allowing him to produce adaptations of his short stories. The series ran until 1992.
Famously prolific, Bradbury wrote for several hours every day throughout his entire life, allowing him to publish more than 30 books, close to 600 short stories, and numerous poems, essays, screenplays and plays.
Though Bradbury won many honors and awards throughout his life, his favorite was perhaps being named "ideas consultant" for the United States Pavilion at the 1964 World's Fair. "Can you imagine how excited I was?" he later said about the honor. "'Cause I'm changing lives, and that's the thing. If you can build a good museum, if you can make a good film, if you can build a good world's fair, if you can build a good mall, you're changing the future. You're influencing people, so that they'll get up in the morning and say, 'Hey, it's worthwhile going to work.' That's my function, and it should be the function of every science fiction writer around. To offer hope. To name the problem and then offer the solution. And I do, all the time."
Adaptation of 'Fahrenheit 451'
In 2018, HBO released a film adaptation of Fahrenheit 451, starring Michael Shannon and Michael B. Jordan, the latter also serving as executive producer on the project.
Death and Legacy
Bradbury wrote well into his 80s, dictating for three hours at a time to one of his daughters, who would transcribe his words to the page. Though curtailing much of his traveling and public appearances, he granted several interviews in his latter years and helped raise funds for his local library.
In 2007, Bradbury received a special citation from the Pulitzer board for his "distinguished, prolific and deeply influential career as an unmatched author of science fiction and fantasy." In his final years, Bradbury felt content about his place in the annals of science fiction history, having achieved his childhood ambition of living forever through his work. "I don't need to be vindicated," he said, "and I don't want attention. I never question. I never ask anyone else's opinion. They don't count."
Bradbury died in Los Angeles on June 5, 2012, at the age of 91. He was survived by daughters Susan, Ramona, Bettina and Alexandra, as well as several grandchildren. An inspiration to writers, teachers and science-fiction enthusiasts, among countless others, Bradbury's fascinating works will be remembered for decades to come.
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