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Ray Bradbury: 'It's Lack That Gives Us Inspiration'

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This interview was originally broadcast in 1988.

Ray Bradbury didn't like negative people. The science-fiction writer and author of Fahrenheit 451 told Terry Gross in 1988 that he found out about negative people in fourth grade, shortly after his classmates started making fun of him for collecting Buck Rogers comic strips.

"In that particular year, I tore up my comic strips and a month later, I burst into tears and said to myself, 'Why am I weeping?' Who died?' " he said. "And the answer was me. I had allowed these fools to kill me and to kill the future."

From that time on, Bradbury said he would never listen to negative people again. "And I went back and collected the Buck Rogers comic strips and started to write about it," he said. "And I became a writer."

Bradbury didn't just become a writer — he became one of the most recognizable and lauded science-fiction writers of all time. On Tuesday, Bradbury died at in Los Angeles at the age of 91.

More than 8 million of Bradbury's books are currently in print. His writing career — which spanned seven decades — included the short-story collections The Golden Apples of the Sun, The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man and the novels Something Wicked This Way Comes and Fahrenheit 451.

Despite being one of the most prolific writers in his genre, Bradbury never learned to drive a car — a fact which continually tickled some of his fellow science-fiction writers. Bradbury said that not driving never really bothered him.

"It's lack that gives us inspiration," he said. "It's not fullness. Not ever having driven, I can write better about automobiles than the people who drive them. I have a distance here. ... Space travel is another good example. I'm never going to go to Mars but I've helped inspire, thank goodness, the people who built the rockets and sent our photographic equipment off to Mars. So it's always a lack that causes you to write that type of story."

Interview Highlights

On the future

Bradbury: "I'd like to come back every 50 years and see how we can use certain technological advantages to our advantage, say in education. I think we're doing a dreadful job of educating. We're spending $200 billion a year — a heck of a lot of money — and we're getting very small results. Because we're neglecting the first grade and the second grade. That's where the whole thing lies and we have to revamp all of our ideas about the first and second grade."

Gross: "Wait, you don't want to come back and find out if we've landed on Mars or not? You want to come back and see how the grade schools are doing?"

Bradbury: "It's not going to do any good to land on Mars if we're stupid. And I want to save the future generation, I want to teach them to read when they're 5 and 6 and 7 years old. If we don't do that, we lose them forever. There's no use having remedial reading when you can do the whole thing in the first grade. It doesn't cost a darn thing. First grade is very cheap. It's the later grades where you have to spend a lot of money if you don't do it right."

On being afraid of the dark as a child

"When I was 6, we had the bathroom upstairs and in the middle of the night when I had to go up there, I had to run halfway up the stairs and turn on the light before I could go the rest of the way. Well, when I was doing this, I'd always say to myself, 'Don't look at the top of the stairs because it will be waiting for you.' And I never learned now to look because as soon as I looked up, there it was and it was horrible and I would scream and fall back down the stairs and my mother and my father would get up and sigh and say, 'Here we go again.' "

On beauty

"All of us, no matter how we look born into this world, feel something like the Hunchback. It doesn't matter if you have a beautiful face or not. I've talked to a lot of beautiful people in later years and found out that they went through the same things in high school that I did. I went around with my face down most of the time because I was suffering from the usual outbreaks on the face that most kids at that age have. But then in later years, I met some beautiful women and beautiful men and they all confessed to the same feeling, regardless of how they looked. I think Quasimodo appeals to all of us."

On terror and writing

"Any experience that touches you, in any particular way, is good. It can be a horrible experience. I saw a car crash when I was 15 here in Los Angeles and five people died as a result of it. I arrived at the scene within 20 seconds of hearing the collision. It was the worst mistake I ever made in my life. I didn't know what I was running into. People had been horribly mangled and decapitated. So for months after, I was shaken. It's probably the reason I never learned to drive. I was terrified of automobiles for a long time after that but I turned it into a short story called "The Crowd" six or seven years later. ... So out of this horror — this really terrible event — you take something that has taught you a certain kind of fear and you pass on to others and say, 'This is what the car can do.' "

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