At almost every talk or book signing I do, someone emerges from the crowd holding an envelope or a sheet of paper, or, sometimes, a picture frame with a letter behind the glass. I know immediately what it is.
It is a letter from Ray Bradbury.
The first time I interviewed Ray Bradbury in May 2000, before becoming his authorized biographer and writing four books, I asked him about the amount of mail he got each day. He told me that he received, on average, 300 letters a week. And he went on to explain that he answered most.
“You have to respond when someone writes you a love letter,” he stated.
Now, all these years later, as I travel to colleges, universities and libraries around the country, I see these letters he wrote, brought back to me like a boomerang. There is the unmistakable letterhead, the typewritten note on his IBMselectric, and the wide, childlike signature.
The people who come to my presentations are always so proud. They want to share these keepsakes with me. And the letters themselves are never form letters. They are always personal and giving. Very often writers wrote to him seeking advice. He loved to mentor them. In many ways, this was as important to him as writing itself.
“What advice would you give me?” they asked.
“Make a list of ten things you love, and write an essay, short story or poem about each one,” he often instructed. He did this himself. He wrote about saving books, about dinosaurs, about Mars, about his boyhood town. He took his own advice.
Ray Bradbury was a rare literary legend. He was patient and generous with his time and forever encouraging of others and their literary aspirations. I think this is because he never forgot the young writer he once was—the young writer with hopes and dreams of literary greatness.
He often joked about the hubris he had when, at the age of 17, he was asked to put some words underneath his yearbook photo.
Likes to write stories
Admired as a Thespian
Headed for literary distinction.
He never forgot that young writer. And so when fledgling writers approached him or wrote him, he always took care to encourage them. He was never a jealous writer. He always believed there was room for us all at the party.
And so on this, his 95th birthday, I think about all the gifts he gave to all the writers around the world who turned to him for wisdom. He lives on in all of those people who wrote him a love letter and he replied.
Thank you to twitter friend @ajvw13 for the inspiration for this birthday post.