In the middle of a particularly hellish day at work, my phone vibrated once in my desk drawer…a minute missive from the Associated Press announcing the passing of writer Ray Bradbury, on June 5, at the age of 91. I reflected…
I had just recently (in the last few years) discovered the staggeringly beautiful prose and brilliantly engineered short stories of Bradbury. My first thought was sadness, eclipsed shortly by amusement, upon envisioning Bradbury learning that news of his passing had been broadcast in real time across the airwaves through an opt-in text message alert service. People everywhere jumped on their compact “smart” devices, and accepted the news as it vibrated in (I admit, I also posted the alert on Facebook).
In reading obituaries and tributes, others have noted his regard for themes of loneliness and the universal presence of death. Ironically, I happen to be making my way through The October Country, a collection of short stories about mortality. Some are horrific, some are just sad, others are wonderful parables.
Perhaps the most poignant part of this collection is the preface where he explains the moment in his life when he realized how he would die:
“From the age of twelve I knew I was in a life and death match, winning every time I finished a new story, threatened with extinction on those days I did not write. The only answer, then, was: write. I have written every day of my life since my twelfth year. Death has not caught me yet. He will, eventually, of course…” (Bradbury 1999: xi)
That same year, Bradbury was inspired to write his first story after Mr. Electrico, a carnival magician, “touched [him] with the St. Elmo’s Fire sword and shouted sound advice: ‘Live forever!'”
And that he shall. Bradbury had an essay published in The New Yorker the week of his passing.
As an aside, in an interview for a documentary about Walt Disney, Ray Bradbury remarked that he was obsessed with The Skeleton Dance as a child. I think this made me love him even more.
Photos: me reading The Illustrated Man this past spring… Reveling in the rain.