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The Greatest Sci-Fi Writer in History

On this day in 1920, author Ray Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois, a suburb north of Chicago. While Bradbury’s family moved to Los Angeles in 1934, his childhood in Illinois profoundly shaped his career. The idyllic setting of Waukegan would later resurface in some of his most famous works—as Green Town in Dandelion Wine (1957) and Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) and in the visions of the astronauts in The Martian Chronicles (1950). 

Ray Bradbury was born into a tight-knit family who was engaged in literary pursuits: his great-grandfather and grandfather published newspapers in Waukegan and had a printing business in Chicago, and his grandparents had a large home library. A highly imaginative child, Bradbury’s fantastical ideas were stoked by his family members. His mother, Esther, read Grimm’s fairy tales and the Oz stories of L. Frank Baum to him. His culturally astute aunt Neva Bradbury took him to the Art Institute, the 1933–34 A Century of Progress International Exposition, which drove him “wild with excitement,” and his first stage plays. A dressmaker and theatrical designer, she created monster costumes for him for Halloween and read Edgar Allen Poe while making masks and marionettes for him. Perhaps the most influential and oft-shared childhood experience was when twelve-year-old Bradbury encountered a carnival magician named Mr. Electrico who reached out, touched him with his energy-charged sword, and commanded, “Live forever!” Bradbury said, “I decided that was the greatest idea I had ever heard. I started writing every day. I never stopped.”

Bradbury died in 2012, but he lives on through his prolific works. In addition to writing twenty-seven novels, including Fahrenheit 451 (1953), and more than 600 short stories, Bradbury adapted sixty-five of his stories for television’s The Ray Bradbury Theater. His honors include an Emmy Award for his screenplay The Halloween Tree (1994), the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters (2000), the National Medal of Arts (2004), and a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation (2007). More than eight million copies of Bradbury’s books have been sold in thirty-six languages. 

In 1992, Bradbury sat down with Studs Terkel to talk about his childhood, love of reading, and long writing career. Listen now.

Ray Bradbury, August 1, 1975. Photograph by Alan Light.

Studs Terkel Radio Archive 

In his forty-five years on WFMT radio, Studs Terkel talked to the twentieth century’s most fascinating people. Browse our growing archive of more than 1,200 programs. Explore the archive

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