Ray Bradbury, August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012

Ray Bradbury lived most of his life in the Los Angeles area. Starting in 1950, when he lived in Venice, he took the street car twenty miles to attend a writers’ group that met in a library in Torrance. For the rest of his life he returned to that library every year to give a public lecture.

I saw him there in about 2003, when he was in a wheelchair, but despite that he stood up at the lectern to talk to us. As soon as he was done, he got back into the wheelchair.

To me, that is a symbol of his generosity. Making that painful effort to give us a good show. And it was a memorable show. Full of stories from his long and distinguished career. Full of love, kindness and encouragement to beginning writers. And some pithy advice on ignoring your detractors. Writers aren’t always very good speakers, but Bradbury was a brilliant one.

After he spoke, I stood in the long line to buy some of his books, and got to smile bashfully at him while he signed them. He was clearly tired, and I would have just babbled anyhow, so just the smile seemed right.

On the way out of the library, parked in a disabled spot, with a blue tag on it, I saw a small but very shiny black Cadillac. The license plate was “FAHR 451”. What a time to not have a camera! But I scrounged up a piece of paper and a pencil and left him a little love note under the windshield wiper.

Bradbury wrote more than two dozen books, some of them novels, some short story collections. His short stories were published in countless magazines. His work was adapted to tv, stage and movies. He wrote screenplays, including the one for John Huston’s ‘Moby Dick’. He won many awards, including a special Pulitzer citation, basically a lifetime achievement award. He has a star in Hollywood (6644 Hollywood Blvd. Leave a flower there on my behalf, anyone who’s in that area, please?). He was a recipient of the National Medal of Arts. These lists of honours just go on and on.

He wrote during, perhaps towards the end of,  science fiction’s Golden Age, alongside Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Harlan Ellison, A.E. van Vogt, Philip K. Dick, John Christopher and all those other magical names.

The title of perhaps his best-known novel, Fahrenheit 451, has become a lietmotif for censorship, or rather the resistance of censorship.

Growing up, I read every Bradbury book I could get my hands on, and vivid images from them are still in my head. Is that a foghorn I hear?  Anyone locked in the closet?  Better check.

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