Op-ed column: How Ray Bradbury inspired one young reader to write, teach English

“I’m going to interview Ray Bradbury,” I told my wife and my daughter. “That’s great,” said my wife.

About 10 years ago I was discussing some upcoming author interviews with an editor I used to write for at The Daily Gazette. “If you could interview one living author,” he asked, “who would it be?”

Right away I said, “Ray Bradbury.”

“Well, see if you can contact him.”

I thought he was kidding, but he was serious. “You mean you’re encouraging me to get an interview with Ray Bradbury?” I was astounded.

“Go for it,” he said.

I’ve interviewed some great writers in my career as a journalist, but for me no one could top Ray Bradbury. I was reading him when I was 14, and I can still remember hot summer afternoons sitting in my backyard under the shade of a tree, reading “Fahrenheit 451,” drinking an iced tea with chunks of lemon and completely enraptured in the future world of book burnings.

“I’m going to interview Ray Bradbury,” I told my wife and my daughter.

“That’s great,” said my wife. My daughter just sort of rolled her eyes. Neither of them appreciated Bradbury the way I did.

“I’m going to find out who his agent is and request an interview. Maybe I’ll even fly out there to visit him.”

“That’s great,” said my wife.

Making contact

It didn’t take me too long to find out who his agent was, but writing the appropriate letter was difficult. In my first attempt, I told the agent how much I had enjoyed reading Bradbury as a kid. I mentioned my favorite books of his and even a few of my favorite short stories he had written. I also explained that I was a high-school and middle-school English teacher and that I had used many of the stories in the classroom. “His stories are great for classroom discussions,” I wrote.

I also mentioned that one reason I had become a writer myself was the joy I had found in reading Ray Bradbury. I concluded with “Let me know what day and time is convenient for the interview. I could conduct the interview by phone or if Mr. Bradbury would prefer I’d even fly out to interview him in person.”

I read the letter to my wife and daughter, and they both began shaking their heads. “You sound like a stalker,” said my daughter.

“After reading that letter, there’s no way Ray Bradbury would let you into his house,” said my wife.

I re-worked it, and tried to sound more like a journalist and less like a fan.

“Much better,” my wife said.

I mailed the letter and for a few weeks I waited excitedly for the mail and a response, but I never heard anything from the agent. So I got on with my life.

In my classroom I continued to teach Ray Bradbury whenever it seemed appropriate. His stories still led to scintillating discussions, and I also continued to write.

Grateful reader

Ray Bradbury recently died, so I’ll never have the opportunity to interview him. The main reason I wanted to interview him was to thank him. I found his stories at a time in my life when I was no longer a kid, and the world of adults seemed very scary to me. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy had recently been assassinated, and the Vietnam War was raging.

I was a scrawny kid and I felt invisible to many of the people around me, but then I discovered this author who took me to Mars and the future, and his stories were filled with such wonder that I forgot how scary the world could be. Many of his characters were brave people often living in bleak times, and they gave me the courage to be an independent person and not try to act a certain way to fit in with my peers.

I felt he was an author who believed in the same things I did. He obviously loved books and libraries and the ability to speak your mind and not be controlled by others. I remember one story titled “The Pedestrian,” about a man in the future who is arrested because he was out walking at night and not home watching TV. This man of the future loved to read and think and enjoyed walking at night to look at the stars and listen to the noises of the night.

That’s who I am today. I love to read, and I also love walking my dog every night in my neighborhood and watching the stars. I love listening to the sounds of the night, and I don’t want anyone to tell me what to think.

I was the same way at the age of 14, and reading Ray Bradbury showed me that I wasn’t the only one out there who felt that way.

Bradbury was always referred to as a science fiction writer, but he never relied on scientific jargon. His stories were about people and that always appealed to me. His stories may have been set in the future, but I knew he was writing about problems we faced today.

Sound advice

As I grew up I always looked forward to any new Ray Bradbury book, and I enjoyed reading interviews with him. When asked about how to become a writer, he once said, “Write a short story every week for a year, and after a year you’ll have 52 short stories. One of them is bound to be good.”

I tell my students that story when they want to learn how to write. The lesson is clear. If you want to write, and if you want to achieve success in any endeavor, you need to work at it.

I wish I had been able to get that interview with Ray Bradbury because I wanted to thank him for having such a positive impact on my life. I’ll continue to teach his stories and his novels and hopefully he will inspire some of my students to read more and to work hard and to observe more closely the world where we live. If that happens, then Ray Bradbury will never die.

Jack Rightmyer lives in Burnt Hills. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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