Monday, March 14, 2011
"To Keith, Thanks, Ray Bradbury"
Just recently, my daughter Kate says to me, “We read this really cool story in class by Ray Bradbury, you woulda loved it—it was this house sometime in the future but a nuclear war or something had happened and all the people were dead, but the house was automated and it just kept going and going, until finally it caught on fire. And that was the end of the story. No characters or anything, but it was still really cool.”
Almost as soon as she started telling me about it, I had to contain the sudden welling of nostalgia that came over me. Because that story, that very same story, was the one I had read at her age and filled me with such emotion that I knew, right at that moment, I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. For some reason I’m still not able to fathom, that particular story really affected me.
It was called “There Will Come Soft Rains”—no doubt you’ve read it yourself. Or at least you’ve read SOMETHING by Ray Bradbury. Literally every single person I know who is in any way a reader went through a “Ray Bradbury period”, a time in which you were convinced that white-haired dude with big black glasses was some kind of literary godhead.
I told Kate about the huge impact Bradbury, and that particular story, had on me when I was her age. She looked appropriately interested for a moment, said, “Really? Wow,” and then started to tell me something about Full Metal Alchemist or Soul Eater or something.
Because the conversation had moved on to manga and anime, I didn’t tell her about how, in my mid-twenties, I actually wrote a letter to Ray Bradbury—an actual FAN letter. It’s the only one I’ve ever written in my entire life. I told him how much his work meant to me, and how I still read him and marveled at his beautiful language and his empathy for humanity and his brilliant imagination. And much to my surprise, several weeks later, Bradbury wrote back—just a quick note saying, “Wow! What a great letter!” He included a signed photo that read “To Keith, Thanks, Ray Bradbury”… but he actually cared enough to catch his mistake, cross out “Keith” and replace it with “Heath”. That sorta meant something to me.
I had that photo framed and kept it on my desk for a long time. I don’t have it anymore. It got lost somewhere in one of those sudden shifting fissures that occasionally open up in our lives. But the impact he had on me has not diminished. And the impact he’s having, even now, on a whole new generation, shows no signs of abating.