Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Remembering Ray Bradbury

One year ago today, Ray Bradbury left us. That night, it rained, and the rainbow in this picture appeared over my house, I kid you not. It was the most fitting farewell I could possibly imagine for someone whose words touched so many.

I'll always remember what I was doing when I learned he'd passed. My freshmen had just finished what had become a weekly ritual: watching an episode from The Bradbury Theater. At the end I shut off the projector, checked the web, and saw it on Yahoo News...

Ray Bradbury had passed away just hours before.

Slightly numbed, I announced this to my class, and pin-drop silence followed, until one girl piped up in a somewhat somber voice: "Wait. That means he'll never writing anything, ever again."

As far as teachable moments, go - hell, LIFE moments - that was pretty big, and not one I could have ever arrived at through any kind of lesson plan, which, of course, makes it the best kind of moment possible.

All my students know my love for Ray and his work. Ever year, my freshmen read Something Wicked This Way Comes and Fahrenheit 451; my sophomore honors class reads Dandelion Wine and The October Country, and this year I also assigned The Halloween Tree for the first time. I shove Bradbury short stories at them like a drug dealer peddling his wares, hoping to hook them in the best way.

And I must've done something right, because on the first anniversary of his death, I held my first annual "Ray Bradbury Day" and gave away over 40 copies of his works, and half those went to students who have already read him, indicating that, hey...maybe my mad plan worked.

I can't put into words what his work has come to mean to me over the past ten years or so. For some reason, my high school teachers didn't assign Bradbury, so it took me awhile to discover him through my own searching, and then a little longer to fall in love with his work. 

When I did, it was a revelation, and his work has come to mean so much to me, not just because of his beautiful, poetic prose and vivid imagery...but because of his idealism, his zeal. I've had a hard time finding my place in the "horror" genre, finding my voice, and as I mentioned in a recent post, his work, Dean Koontz's work and the Twilight Zone has really had an effect on how I view my "calling" (if you will) as a writer.

Because of this revelation,  last summer, I proposed a challenge for myself: read one Bradbury short story every day, all through the summer. Of course, the real challenge proved in LIMITING myself to one short story a day which, I'm happy to say, I failed at. By the end of the summer, I'd read through five collections: The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Golden Apples of the Sun, The October Country, and his 100 Best Stories collection.

198 Ray Bradbury short stories.

Also, I tried to put into effect something similar to the "Bradbury Daily Diet." In one of his essays, he recommended reading a short story, an essay, and a poem every single day. I've come somewhere near to that, and I feel like my mind is mapping out new, fresher story ideas than before. Whether or not this actually changes how I write remains to be seen.

This summer I will once again read Ray Bradbury. I just finished his wonderful biography - written by Sam Weller - The Bradbury Chronicles. I'm moving on to re-read Dandelion Wine and will follow that up with its sequel, Farewell, Summer. After that, I've got the following slated to be read:

Long After Midnight
From the Dust Returned
Now and Forever: Somewhere a Band Is Playing & Leviathan '99
Quicker Than the Eye

Now, I'll add more if I need to, but these are the ones on their way from Amazon at the moment. I believe this is going to become my biannual tradition: reading Something  Wicked This Way Comes  and The Halloween Tree during October, and reading the rest of his fiction during the summer.

And thankfully, there's plenty left there for me to read. A whole lifetime of work, actually...