Author Spotlight: Ray Bradbury

By Nicky M. | Arcadia Staff
Born in 1920, Ray Bradbury is one of the biggest names in American science-fiction. The author of over 300 stories, Bradbury revolutionized the sci-fi genre with his dystopic fiction, including the well-known Fahrenheit 451. In honor of his August birthday, we’re taking a look at some of the places that helped create a giant in the world of American literature!

The Early Years of Green Town

Ray Doulgas Bradbury was born on August 22, 1920, in the city of Waukegan, Illinois. The son of a Swedish immigrant, Bradbury grew up in a large extended family, and spent many hours reading and telling stories with various family members. Although his father tried several times to move the family during Bradbury’s early childhood, they always seemed to return to Waukegan, making it a place that heavily influenced Bradbury’s formative years and later life. Many of Bradbury’s days were spent in Waukegan’s Carnegie Library, where he discovered authors like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, who would influence his later writing. 

The love of literature Waukegan and his family had fostered in Bradbury led him to begin writing at the age of 11, during the first years of the Great Depression. The young Bradbury quickly discovered his passion in writing, and became determined to write daily, even when traditional paper was scarce due to funds. His earliest stories attempted to imitate noted horror author Edgar Allan Poe, although by the age of 18, he had moved on to writing science-fiction.

These early stories still often harkened back to Waukegan, which Bradbury immortalized in many of his tales as “Green Town.” Green Town became a symbol of safety and innocence in tales that were otherwise dark or threatening, and was featured long after Bradbury had moved on from the Illinois city. Bradbury’s writing about Green Town revealed the joys of living in small-town America, and how an upbringing in the Midwest could affect a person.

A Hollywood Writing Star

Although previous family moves had failed, the Bradbury’s permanently settled in Los Angeles, California, in 1934. After moving with only $40, Bradbury’s father was quickly able to find work despite the harsh economy. Their home was located near Hollywood, which delighted a 14-year old Bradbury, who was enamored with the glamour of the area.

Author Ray Bradbury.
Bradbury quickly involved himself with the writing scene of Hollywood, selling his first piece of writing, a joke, at the age of 14. At 18, Bradbury began submitting his science-fiction stories to local fanzines, magazines featuring fan-written fiction and other media. His story “Hollerbochen’s Dilemma” was subsequently published in 1938 in a fanzine run by noted literary agent and science fiction writer Forrest Ackerman. Ackerman took notice of Bradbury, and invited him to join the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society, where Bradbury was able to meet several other sci-fi authors.

By 1944, Bradbury was working as a full-time writer. He contributed to pulp magazines and fanzines, before publishing his first collection of short stories in 1947. This collection, Dark Carnival, was well-received by critics, but did not lead to any future success. However, Bradbury saw an incredible stroke of luck when he submitted a story entitled “Homecoming” to the women’s magazine Mademoiselle – his story, sitting in a slush pile, was happened upon by a young Truman Capote, who published the story. It would later receive an O. Henry Award in 1947.

After his success with “Homecoming,” Bradbury began writing his most well-known novel, Fahrenheit 451. The story of a book-burning, dystopic society was written almost exclusive in the UCLA Powell Library, where Bradbury could rent a typewriter. Originally only 25,000 words, the story was entitled The Fireman before being lengthened into the modern novel. Bradbury based this novel in a reality he envisioned after growing up and working in Los Angeles, where technology became more important than human interaction or literature.

Bradbury continued to write and publish to acclaim throughout the rest of his career, and he published many well-known fantasy and science-fiction stories, including The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. He also made many appearances on the science-fiction lecture circuit, speaking until the age of 88 in 2009.

Bradbury, who married in 1947 and had four children, died in 2012 at the age of 91 in Los Angeles. After his death, his personal library was donated to his boyhood library in Waukegan, Illinois, as a thank you for the years he had spent reading and writing there. The winner of over five major awards by the time of his death, Bradbury is largely credited with bringing science-fiction to mainstream American culture. A giant of an author, Bradbury will be remembered for his contributions not only to science-fiction, but to American literature as a whole.