By Ashly Moore Sheldon • August 21, 2019
Always a voracious reader, Ray Bradbury decided he wanted to be a writer at a young age. He has said he started out by "imitating" his favorite authors, including Edgar Rice Burroughs, L. Frank Baum, and Jules Verne. When Bradbury graduated from high school during the Great Depression, he didn't have the money for university so he set about educating himself. "I couldn't go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for ten years."
Publishing his first story in a fan magazine when he was 18, Bradbury worked consistently at his craft over the next decade for little or no pay. During that time, he got married and started a family. At 27, he published his first book of short stories, Dark Carnival.
Over the course of his writing career, Bradbury would go on to produce more than 30 books and nearly 600 short stories, not to mention many poems, essays, screenplays, and plays. When he died in 2012 at the age of 91, The New York Times declared him "the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the literary mainstream." To learn more about Bradbury's life, check out The Bradbury Chronicles, a biography by Sam Weller.
Bradbury was a master of the short story. He had a gift for efficiently portraying complex fantasy premises and otherworldly landscapes in an easily digestible single chapter. Many of us recall first reading one of his stories as a student. Although the idea of assigned reading isn't always a thrilling one, Bradbury's wildly imaginative, and often dark, tales were a refreshing change for our impressionable young minds. Here are a few of our favorite compilations and a couple of the stories that stand out from each.
While much of Bradbury's work is categorized as science fiction or fantasy, many of his stories draw from his own life experiences, focusing strongly on relationships and humanity. His novel Dandelion Wine (1957), part of his Green Town series, seems to be based on his own Midwest upbringing. While it contains elements of magic and the surreal, it is, at its heart, a coming-of-age story.
Bradbury's fictional memoir Green Shadows, White Whale (1992) is a first-person account of when, in 1951, he was summoned to Ireland by cinema titan John Huston to write the screenplay for Moby Dick. Beginning with this factual premise, the story rapidly delves into the fantastic.
Bradbury is perhaps best known for two of his earliest works, which are both set in a troubled future. The Martian Chronicles (1950) is a collection of short stories in which humans flee an atomically destroyed earth to colonize Mars in the year 2030. In doing so, they face conflicts with the native Martians. Fahrenheit 451 (1951), set in a not-so-distant 1999, presents an authoritarian America where all literature has been outlawed and "firemen" are assigned the task of burning any books that are found, as well as the houses where they're discovered.
"Science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle." This quote from The Martian Chronicles seems a beautifully worded summary of Bradbury's philosophy. He was, above all, a writer and was deeply passionate about the importance of pushing himself constantly to grow as an artist. In Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity, he writes, "We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out." This is a lovely sentiment and a fitting legacy for this author, whose fruitful career spanned more than half a decade.
"We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out."