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An Interview with Ray Bradbury

by Ray Bradbury & Jacqueline Russell

Jacqueline Russell: Good morning, Mr. Bradbury. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. We're very excited to be producing your play, Dandelion Wine, here in Chicago. Ray Bradbury: Oh, you're going to have fun. JR: I think so too, and we've had so much fun already just reading the play again and again and re-reading the book. I'd like to ask you a few questions so we can include your thoughts in a piece for our audiences. My first question is in regards to you being originally from Waukegan, Illinois. I think that so many people are going to be excited to discover this, people like me, who have been fans of yours for years without realizing that you are actually from Illinois and that Dandelion Wine takes place in Waukegan. Do you feel that being from the Midwest has defined you, as a person - as a writer? RB: Yes, all my life. It's been in two or three of my books, in Dandelion Wine to start with, and there's my other book Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is laid in the same town, and that's Waukegan, and then, if you read The Martian Chronicles the third exposition there takes place in Waukegan, Illinois, but all my relatives are really up on Mars waiting for me. JR: The people that you describe in Dandelion Wine - are those relationships real or somewhat imagined? RB: Oh, they're real. My grandfather, my grandmother, my favorite aunt who helped raise me, she died two years ago at the age of 92, but she was my second mother. I was raised on 11 S. Saint James Street and my grandparent's house was 619 Washington Street, and it's still there at the corner. I spent more time in my grandparent's house than I did at home, because I loved to stand and watch my grandmother cook and fix chickens or clean turkeys or whatever. The household fascinated me. She [took in] borders because she needed to raise money and some of them showed up in my short stories and one of my first books, Dark Carnival. JR: So even as a young boy you were very connected to the older people in your family and to their stories. RB: Oh, yes absolutely. Yes. JR: I'm also particularly moved, in the book, by the piece about the time machine, and Colonel Freeleigh. Again, did you invent that as a writer or did you really know people in your town just like the Colonel? RB: No, I had relationships - I've always been fascinated with old people, starting when I was very young. So…I discovered. I didn't put a label on it, but I put a label on it later, that they could tell me about the past and they were time machines, and if I provoked them, if I gave them clue words, they would move into the past and tell me about it. That was also true about my grandfather and my father. I used to love to lie on the porch on summer nights and whisper to my granddad and to my father…winter 1905, or winter 1895, and they would provide the answer then. JR: Wow, so it really is the game that the boys play with The Colonel then. That's real. RB: Oh yes, indeed. JR: What do you think about children today? Do you think there's a huge difference between children today and the child that you were in 1928? RB: No, I don't think so, because children come into my life every day. I was in Ventura, CA over the weekend and 300 people came to a book signing including dozens of children. They were just as curious about me as I was curious about older people when I was a kid. So I'm an old time machine now, and the children are fascinated with me because I've written these books and because I can talk about them. JR: Do you find that the connectivity between generations that you describe in Dandelion Wine still exists today? RB: Oh, absolutely, it never changes, children are still curious and they're still adventurous and boys at the age of 12 – all belong to me. They're all my children. They are just as excited about life as I was. JR: I'm really glad you say that, because one of the things that I read in your biography was about how you are always in touch with the child within yourself. RB: Oh, absolutely. Dandelion Wine wouldn't work unless I still had that young thing in me. JR: And how do you keep that child within you so alive? RB: By being in love every day of your life. I'm a lover. I've loved writing since I was twelve. It's never changed. So, as long as I've gone on loving, and writing every day for 70 years, you stay young, because you're doing the thing that you love. JR: That's how we feel about working in the theatre. We want our audience, young and old, to come see your play and access the child within themselves. We're also hoping that this play will encourage children and families to talk more; to take that home with them, and to want to discover the time machines in their own lives, and their own households. RB: Well, let me give you an example. I put on this play 30 years ago and at the end of the play, a young man came out of the theatre crying and he couldn't stop because the play did that to him, and he was so touched because I'd taken him back to his childhood and I had to hold onto him because he couldn't stop crying. That's what the play is about, it's about me as an older man, talking to my younger self. The most important scene in the play is the scene in the end where the boy discovers that the older man is Douglas Spaulding grown old, and he is the younger Douglas Spaulding. The two of them are there and they embrace because they need each other. The old man needs to the young boy to rediscover life. JR: Yes. That's exactly what one takes away from the play. The book, however, didn't have that character, the older Douglas Spaulding. There are many subtle changes between the book and the play. Do you feel that the play takes on a different journey? RB: No, it's not different at all, because you still have the encounter with the past and having to make do with it. Even though I don't use the older man in the book, nevertheless, Douglas has to face up in order to cure himself, in order to get well, in order to go on with life he has to say goodbye to John Huff, the librarian, Colonel Freeleigh and all the others. It's all there. It's just a slightly different form. JR: Do you enjoy the process of playwriting as much as you do the short story? In my experience, writing a play can be so much more of a collaborative experience, because you're writing it for a company to bring it to the stage. RB: No, no. I don't write for anyone, I just write for myself. I just write the play, and I hand it over to you, and then you take it from me. I didn't write it for you, I wrote it for myself. JR: I've often noticed that an aspect of your work that people remember most is your explorations of the darker side. Many young readers recall the titillation of being frightened by Something Wicked This Way Comes, or the Lonely One in Dandelion Wine. What do you think it is that draws children to these types of experiences? RB: Because it's there. We have to see it, face up to it. When I was twelve I discovered I was alive. That's in your play, when Douglas discovers he's alive. But as soon as you discover that, then you discover, some day, you can die too, so you have to face up to it. There's a mixture of the miraculousness of being alive and having this fear of death. So everything's there…you must make do with it. And that's what the play is all about. JR: Do you have any advice for us as we delve into producing your play? What would you like to say to the people who are going to be living and breathing this story for the next five months? RB: Stay in love. Stay in love with me. Stay in love with my play. Have fun every night and live the play to the top of your spirit and go home happy and have a good night sleep. JR: And your advice to the children and the parents coming to this show? RB: Let it sink in. Drink the wine. And enjoy.