Friday, April 29, 2011

Uncle Ray Bradbury

When I was twelve years old, I first met Uncle Ray. I found him in the back of the grade seven classroom in a cardboard box. In that box were paperbacks with torn covers and rough-edged pages whose best days were far behind them; they had fought the good storytelling fight. I dug through the jumble of books and clutched The Martian Chronicles.  The cover was orange, the planet mars was in the background, and in the foreground was the author’s floating, majestic face looking as though it had been carved in stone. Daring me to read it. His name was printed in letters that seemed to rise off the page. RAY BRADBURY.


I brought the book to my desk and when the final school bell of the day rang, I carried it along with my homework onto the school bus. It usually took forty minutes to get home to my parent’s ranch on the bus, so I opened the book. And I fell inside: I suddenly walked a world where a rocket could bring summer to winter, where Martians lived and breathed, where the macabre house of Usher could stand again. I did not want to leave Mars.
The book changed me. Oh, I had been altered by other books (The Hobbit, for example), but there was a deep, trance-like beauty in Brabdury’s prose. It lived, it breathed. His words could build temples. His words came from the deepest wells of the earth, of the soul. I was possessed by an overwhelming desire to read more. I wanted all his words, all his worlds inside of me. And so, in the next few months, I hunted for his books, demanding them from librarians, scouring bookshops, until they were in my possession. 
And in that time he became part of my family. I began to think of him as Uncle Ray. If I were to draw up the family tree he would be right there alongside my other uncles. After all, he has guided me, shaped me. And he was along for every family vacation, right there during every holiday.
Flash forward eighteen years. I had become a writer (a path I am certain his words helped me choose) and I had written my fourth novel, Dust. It was my ode to his words, his worlds. And, gathering my courage, I sent my book to him. I did not expect a reply. Just the thought that his hands might touch it, or even that the book might sit at his front door, was enough.
Three months later a letter from California arrived at my door. I stared at it. I turned it over in my hands. Finally, I opened it to discover this:
I was (and still am) dumbfounded that a man as busy as Bradbury (and obviously ill at the time), would take the precious minutes to write to me. The letter is framed and on the wall of my office, a daily inspiration.
One of the concepts in life is the whole idea of "paying it forward." In other words if someone helped you get into your position, then instead of paying them back you should pay it forward to the next generation. This is obviously what Bradbury was doing. And I thank him. And I will continue thank him by paying it forward myself.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by the letter, of course. After all, he is my Uncle Ray.

14 comments:

Dolly said...

This is amazing. More than amazing. A letter from Ray Bradbury would be my equivalent to some minor priest getting acknowledgement from the pope. (No idea where that came from since I'm not even a Christian...oh well!)

Congratulations.

Jennifer said...

That's lovely. Real handwriting and everything! I can imagine how you must treasure it.

Arthur Slade said...

Yes, Dolly it was almost a religious experience!
And I certainly do treasure it Jennifer.

Kate Bowyer said...

How exciting and thank you for sharing the letter. I read Fahrenheit 451 for the first time a few years ago and love it, just wished I would have read it sooner in life.

Melwyk said...

That is amazing. I'd treasure something like this as well, can see how great it would be to receive it. PS - I also loved Dust!

Stuart Land said...

Wow! What an honor from a living nation treasure.

Arthur Slade said...

@Kate F451 is one of my fave novels of his. Even listened to the audiobook recently, which was excellent.
@Melwyk It is a treasure. And thanks for the kind words about DUST.
@Stuart I agree, it is an honour!

The Pen and Ink Blog said...

Thank you. His letter is a perfect example of gentility. I admire him even more. I used to have one from Walt Disney (As a child I sent him a gift I had brought back from South Africa.) I cherished it until it was lost in one of our many moves. In Robert Heinlein's Double Star mention is made of the Farley File and why it exists. The moments we treasure when we come in contact with a person who looms large in our lives. They are the reason for the file.

Arthur Slade said...

I like the idea of the Farley File.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Oh man. So cool. Writers continue to amaze me with their generosity.

Jaclyn said...

Amazing! Love it when authors do something extra special for their fans, especially when they're as busy as Ray Bradbury must be. Also a sweet gesture from you, by the way, sending him a copy of Dust. I'm sure he appreciates that you took the time to tell him how much he's influenced you.

And on a completely random note, I LOVE his letterhead! :)

Arthur Slade said...

I love his letterhead, too!

Jim said...

Awesome. . . shame to lose Bradbury and Sendack

Arthur Slade said...

Yeah, it's a tough year to lose both those greats.