Author Ray Bradbury: ‘Do what you love.’
Samia, 18, interviews author and L.A.-resident Ray Bradbury about his work.
In an interview at his Los Angeles home, Ray Bradbury, 82, spoke about how he got started as a writer and how he feels about literature. He is the acclaimed author of Fahrenheit 451 and many other books. Mayor James Hahn encouraged city residents to read Fahrenheit 451 in April as part of a national book-reading campaign.
Q: What were you like as a teenager?
A: HA! Like most boys, very shy. I didn’t have any experiences with girls until I was a 19-year-old. So, maybe it’s just as well, because I think that I would have gotten in trouble. I was very shy, and I was not a good student.
A: Well, I’m a writer. I hated algebra! I flunked it all the time. And they gave me a D and kicked me upstairs, so that I didn’t have to take it again. But at L.A. High School, I had a wonderful short-story teacher, Jeannet Johnson, who taught me the short story and a wonderful poetry teacher, Snow Longley Housh, who taught me poetry. These two teachers were at the center of my life. I got to know them personally. When I got out of high school they became my friends, and they remained my friends for the rest of their lives. They were very valuable people. And what kept my life going were short-story classes, poetry and drama. I joined the drama club and wrote the student talent show. So that part of my life, the creative part, was wonderful, but the rest of my student life was just average.
Q: Was that when you got into writing?
A: No, I actually started writing when I was in fifth grade, when I was a 12-year-old.
Q: What was the first thing you wrote?
A: I wrote a sequel to a Martian book by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Q: Were you always interested in science fiction? Is that what inspired you to become a writer?
A: No, it’s a combination of things. Old movies, archeology, magic shows, Blackstone the Magician, Buck Rogers, and the daily papers when I was a 9-year-old in 1929, The Wizard of Oz, Jules Vern and his books, H.G. Wells—a combination of magic and science fiction.
Q: What was the first job you held as a teenager?
A: I never had any jobs! I sold newspapers on a street corner when I was 19. Before that I didn’t have any jobs. There was no work. We were in the middle of the Depression. My father was out of work when I graduated from high school. So I sold newspapers on a street corner from the time I was 19 till I was 22. I made $10 a week, which kept me off my parent’s back. It was at the corner of Olympic and Norton and during that time I sold newspapers from 3-6:30 p.m. The rest of the day I had time to write my short stories.
Q: I heard somewhere that the minute you wake up in the morning you just start writing. When did you start doing that?
A: When I was around 18, when I graduated from high school.
Q: Did you go to college?
A: No. Don’t go to college and learn to write! That’s bad. What can you learn in college that helps you with your writing?
Q: So you don’t think it would have mattered if you had gone to college?
A: They would have ruined me! The teachers would have wanted me to write their way instead of my way.
Q: What was your first work that was published?
A: I had a short story that was published in Rob Wagner’s Script. It was a magazine, sort of like the New Yorker, published in Beverly Hills. And my first story appeared there when I was 20.There was no payment for me, but they gave me copies of the magazine. In the beginning, it was very exciting.
Q: If you were stuck on an island with one book, what would it be?
A: It would be The Complete Prefaces of George Bernard Shaw. He was an incredible playwright, but he was just as incredible at writing prefaces to his plays. He has essays on everything—in the history of our country and England, during the early part of the century. His plays, of course, were made into motion pictures and musicals. My Fair Lady is based upon the play "Pygmalion." So, if I had one book to take with me, it would be his essays because there’s about 2,000 pages of them.
Q: Is he your favorite writer?
A: No, I have about two dozen favorite writers.
Q: Name a few.
A: Shakespeare, Alexander Pope, H.G. Wells and Edith Wharton.
Q: Do you think the message of censorship in your book needs to be out in the world?
A: I hope so, because television is mostly junk. Local TV news is terrible, and I advise people to not watch it. It’s all murder, suicide and funerals.
Q: What is your favorite work of your own?
A: They’re all my children, so I don’t play favorites.
Q: Do you see your work as a timeline of your life?
A: If you read my books you know me. I don’t have to write an autobiography. Everything about me is in my books.
Q: If your house was on fire and you only had time to grab one thing, what would it be?
A: All of the photographs of my children. I have four daughters, and they’re all wonderful. I have eight grandchildren, and they’re wonderful.
Q: What do they think about your success?
A: I don’t know. I’ve never asked them. Why would I? That would be impolite of me.
Q: Does your family like reading your writing?
A: Oh yeah, yes, they do.
Q: Do any of them inspire the characters in your writings?
A: Nope, none of them. But one of my daughters is a writer. She writes soap operas, All My Children.
Q: Then where does the inspiration for your writings come from?
A: I don’t know. I haven’t the faintest idea. They just spring up, I grab them, and I run! Everything in life inspires me. I never know what I am going to do next.
Q: When did you think you were successful?
A: I actually never thought about it. I think that one shouldn’t think about that sort of thing. It happens or it doesn’t happen.
Q: And finally what advice do you have for young aspiring writers?
A: Fall in love and stay in love. Do things that you love. Don’t do things that other people want you to do. Do the thing that is nearest to your heart and stay in love with your work. If you do that, you will do excellent work.