Ray Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois, on August 22, 1920, the son of Leonard Bradbury and Esther Moberg Bradbury. One of his older twin brothers died before his birth, and a younger sister, Elizabeth, died in infancy when he was seven.
Despite economic problems that took his family twice to Arizona in search of work, and despite the deaths of two siblings, Bradbury’s memory of his early years is positive. In Dandelion Wine (1957) and other works, his boyhood home in Waukegan becomes Green Town, an idyllic if somewhat fragile midwestern town, where children enjoy the pleasures of playmates their age balanced with the opportunity for solitary explorations of a surrounding countryside.
In 1934, the family moved permanently to Los Angeles, where Bradbury soon adapted to his second beloved home. Los Angeles attracted him, in part, because it was a center of the entertainment industry which Bradbury had loved since at least the age of three, when he saw the 1923 film The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Throughout his life, Bradbury devoured the fiction of wonder and adventure: radio, motion pictures, comic books, pulp and slick magazines, and the novels of such authors as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jules Verne. At the age of twelve, he and a friend found themselves unable to await the next sequel in Burroughs’s Mars series and, therefore, wrote their own.
Bradbury had begun writing stories and poems as soon as he learned how to write. He made his first sale as a teenager, contributing a sketch to the George Burns and Gracie Allen radio comedy show. In high school, he also developed an interest in theater that continued throughout his writing career.
After finishing high school, Bradbury plunged into writing, trying to make himself quickly into a professional. He joined a science-fiction organization, studied with science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein, and worked with several other successful pulp fiction and screenwriters. He set himself the task of writing a story a week, while living at home and earning money selling newspapers. His first published story was “Hollerbochen’s Dilemma,” which appeared in Imagination! in 1938. He wrote his first paid science-fiction story, “Pendulum,” in collaboration with Henry Hasse, and it appeared in Super Science Stories in 1941. Soon Bradbury was publishing regularly in pulp magazines such as Weird Tales.
When he married Marguerite McClure in 1947, he was a well-established writer, publishing more than a dozen stories each year. “The Big Black and White Game” appeared in Best American Short Stories in 1945, and “Homecoming” was selected for the O. Henry Awards Prize Stories of 1947. In the year of his marriage, Arkham House published his first story collection, Dark Carnival (1947); many of these stories were reprinted in the highly regarded collection The October Country (1955). From then on, his fiction was regularly recognized with awards and selected for anthologies. In 1949, the year the first of his four daughters was born, the National Fantasy Fan Federation selected him best author of the year.
Bradbury’s career continued to advance and then to diversify after 1949. The Martian Chronicles (1950) became one of the first science-fiction works to receive serious attention from the mainstream literary establishment when reviewer Christopher Isherwood praised it highly. (In 1977-1978, the play version would receive five Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards.) Then followed a pattern of publishing collections of stories interspersed with new novels and other activities that included screenplays, musical theater, drama, and poetry. His best-known fiction appeared before 1963: The Martian Chronicles, Fahrenheit 451 (1953), Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962), and five collections of short stories. Each of the novels either grew from earlier published stories or was constructed of earlier stories worked together into a longer work. During this period, he also traveled to Ireland, where he worked on the screenplay for director John Huston’s 1956 film version of Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick (1851).
After 1963, Bradbury continued to publish short-story collections, but he devoted more of his energy to other areas, especially drama. His first collection of short plays, The Anthem Sprinters and Other Antics (1963), grew out of his six months in Ireland. He produced two shows based on his own works: The World of Ray Bradbury (1964) and The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit (1965). His other works in the 1960’s included a cantata and a film history of America for the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Though his interests in fiction and drama continued into the 1970’s, he also turned his attention more decisively toward poetry, publishing three volumes and then collecting them into a single volume, The Complete Poems of Ray Bradbury (1982). During this period, he wrote much nonfiction prose for magazines ranging from Life to Playboy.
Film productions of Bradbury’s works include Fahrenheit 451 (1966), The Illustrated Man (1969), The Martian Chronicles (1980), and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1984). Of these adaptations, only French filmmaker François Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 was widely praised by film critics. Many of Bradbury’s short stories have been adapted for television, some with great success. His own animated short film, Icarus Montgolfier Wright, was nominated for an Academy Award in 1962.
After 1980, Bradbury collected some of his early detective stories in A Memory of Murder (1984) and then published a detective novel, Death Is a Lonely Business (1985), and a gothic thriller set in Hollywood, A Graveyard for Lunatics (1990). In 1985, he began a series of adaptations of his own stories for a cable television series, The Ray Bradbury Television Theater. His awards include a life achievement award from the World Fantasy Convention (1977), a Gandalf “Grand Master” award at the Hugo Award Ceremonies of 1980, the Jules Verne Award (1984), the PEN Body of Work Award (1985), a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2002), and the National Medal of the Arts (2004). His wife of fifty-six years, Marguerite, died in 2003, survived by Bradbury and their four daughters.
Bradbury’s achievements are mainly in fantasy and science fiction. His drama and film scripts have been well received, but his poetry has not. Continuing attention from literary scholars and cultural historians suggests that he will surely be remembered for the powerful and thoughtful storytelling that brought him to prominence in the 1950’s. Bradbury’s achievement opened a generation’s hearts and minds to the worlds of imagination and wonder in fantasy and science fiction, beginning an era of wide popularity for and of scholarly interest in genres that had been on the fringe of modern culture.
Throughout his career, Bradbury has exhibited both an enthusiasm for experience and an awareness of the weaknesses that repeatedly bring humanity to the brink of self-extinction; those elements are the hallmarks of his fiction. In his science fiction and in the fantasies based on his childhood, Bradbury has produced a memorable and influential body of writing, notably in The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451. With moving and imaginative stories told in a lively, poetic style, he brought American science fiction and fantasy to the attention of a mass audience, helping to make possible a renaissance in these genres.