A picayune tribute to the great man himself written shortly after his death. Appeared in The New Yorker Online, June 6, 2012.
I was speaking of him only yesterday. I was with someone from the American Association of Publishers and me and my interlocutor were talking about how much we loved his work. She mentioned that she had actually visited his home and I could only mutter in awe: He has the greatest mind. No coincidence or presentiment involved in this little conversation. The truth is for me, and for a whole generation of readers I’m sure, Bradbury is never far from mind. He was simply too important, too indelible, his imaginary too uncanny, his impact on the culture too sustained and profound. Even though he considered himself primarily a fantasist he (and a few others key writers) snapped science fiction out of its adolescent fugue, helped introduce the genre to a broader audience. He was also the original transmedia franchise as his fiction was read, performed on stage, viewed on screens. A prescient lyrical writer with an abiding hatred for intolerance, Bradbury influenced generations of readers and many of our most famous dreamers, from Stephen King to Steven Spielberg.
When I was young Bradbury was my man. I followed him to Mars, to the Veldt, to the future, to the past, to the heart of America, I rode out on the Pequod with him and on rockets. He was the first of my literary obsessions but he set the terms of what I talked about when I talked about loving an author. I read everything of his in the library which wasn’t even a a quarter of what he produced. Never saw the man myself in person but when I was young I had dreams where he appeared, where we spoke. Of course like a faithful nerd I saw Something Wicked This Way Comes the Friday it opened; caught François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 on VCR; the Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles on TV, was a faithful viewer of The Ray Bradbury Theater but none of them ever came close to magnificent light that poured off his prose. And then there was his story “All Summer in a Day,” a perennial middle school favorite. I remember reading that story very young, when I was still wrestling with English, when I was only beginning to understand that I loved stories more than anything, that books would be my calling. I read that short tale and when I came to those ruthless final lines I was shattered by it. In the back of the Madison Park library I read that story and cried my little eyes out. I had never been moved like that by any piece of art. I had never known what I’d been experiencing as an immigrant, never had language for it until I read that story. In a few short pages Bradbury gave me back to myself.
It was my first real taste of a power of fiction. Of what literature can accomplish. How it can comfort, instruct, inspire and most importantly transform. Bradbury helped put me on the path to my calling. He was and will continue to be one of the great gifts of my life.