(Photos by Robert Kerr)
On December 6, the City of Los Angeles officially dedicated a beautiful area in front of the Central Library as Ray Bradbury Square. I was honored by the invitation to speak. My speech closed the ceremony before the unveiling of the Ray Bradbury Square street sign. I followed a very moving tribute delivered by actor Joe Mantegna. Several people asked afterwards if I would make my speech available. Here it is. I ad-libbed a few parts during the speech, but this was the draft I had at the podium.
Thank you to Steven and to the Bradbury daughters for inviting me to speak today. As some of you know, I worked closely with Ray Bradbury for 12 years. We published three books together and, more importantly, forged a singular, blessing of a bond along the way. The last day I saw Ray, on April 11, he said, “You are the son I never had.”
You, dear Ray, were my Father. My Friend. My Mentor.
Of course, Ray Bradbury received many honors over the course of his incredible career: an Emmy, an Oscar nomination, Cable Ace Awards, a Pulitzer Prize citation, and so many others. I was with him, along with three of his cherished daughters, Sue, Bettina, and Alexandra, when Mr. Bradbury went to Washington to receive the Medal of Arts from the President of the United States, in the Oval Office.
We are joined today, I might add, by former National Endowment for the Arts Chair, Dana Gioia, the man responsible for Ray Bradbury receiving this award.
I was there in 2000, in New York City, when Ray was given the Medal for Contributions to American Letters from the National Book Foundation. Ray delivered a rousing, extemporaneous, inspiring speech that night, one told from the mountain. And, of course, in that speech, he spoke of his deep love and abiding affection for books and libraries. He recalled autumn evenings when he was a boy, rushing home from the old Carnegie Library in his boyhood home of Waukegan, Illinois. His arms were piled high with books as he was propelled forward by the cold winds of October, dervishes of autumn leaves trailing behind him.
Ray was, as has been mentioned today, a tireless advocate for libraries and literacy. He loved libraries. He even rescued some from closure. And that is why this recognition today, this Everestian honor, is perhaps the most important honor of all. To have this beautiful space named for Ray Douglas Bradbury—this space, in the shadow of the athenaeum where he self-educated himself for ten years after high school—makes it nearly impossible to articulate just how important this day is. Ray spent three nights a week at this library for a decade, from 1938 to 1947, earning, what he called, a college degree from the most important educational institution in the world—the library. He read books on history, politics, art, and religion. He once told me that he would take the little squares of paper used to write down card catalog numbers, and he would scribble down story ideas on them, and memories, and poems.
Ray and I spent so much time together that he often joked that he could send me out and I could deliver his speeches. I thought about delivering a speech for him today, to follow through on his words, but hesitated. Then, on the way here this afternoon, just an hour ago, strangely, magically, like autumn leaves scattered in the wind across the pavement, I found a series of little squares of paper, the sort of papers one would use in a library to write down card catalog numbers. And there was writing on these scraps of paper, impossible writing, a speech from the man himself. If you will allow me, I will read it to you:
Good afternoon, I suppose you’re wondering why I have called you all here?
The answer is simple: LOVE.
You may have thought that you came out today to witness and celebrate me, to show me your love. But, in fact, it is the other way around. I am here to witness and celebrate YOU! I am here to show you my LOVE, especially to my daughters, who allowed me to eat their candy at Saturday movie matinees so long, long ago. I LOVE YOU Sue, Mona, Tina, Zana.
And I suppose you’re all asking another question. How is it that I am able to be here today? After all, I departed this world on June 5th, far-travelling to a place where it is always the beginning of summer, where green in the meadow grows. And dandelions, too, of course.
And there are Clark Bars.
But how can I be here? It is impossible, you say! Well, if you will forgive me a tremendous act of ego for just a moment, the answer is, really, quite simple.
I’m Ray Bradbury.
In my world, there is magic in the everyday. A telephone can transport a man to the streets of Mexico City, listening to the sounds of the traffic and the taco cart salesman, and the many voices a thousand miles away.
A new pair of tennis shoes can make an eight-year-old boy leap fences, run, dash, dart across summer lawns dewed.
An old man can become a time machine for anyone who will listen to his stories of yesteryear.
What is more impossible, I might propose, than my being here with you all today is the very fact that this square will now bear my name. That is impossible! You see, I moved to Los Angeles when I was 13, in April 1934. We had no money. We knew no one. But I spent countless hours in this library. I spent countless hours roller-skating all across the city, collecting autographs from WC Fields, Jean Harlow, Marlene Dietrich, and others. Not far from here, I once fished radio scripts out of dumpsters and studied them and copied them and learned to write.
I spent many hours, dreaming the impossible dream. To one day become a famous writer. To one day be shelved beside my own heroes, L. Frank Baum, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.
I only went to a psychiatrist once in my life. I was in my early 20s and he asked, “What is troubling you?”
I said, “I want to be the greatest writer who ever lived.”
He said, “Well, what are you doing here? You better go home and get writing.”
And so, along the way, going to college at the only college that truly matters—the library— I slowly started to discover myself. And I discovered the secret to writing.
And that secret is falling in love and staying in love.
I was in love with writing my whole life. In love with libraries my whole life.
And, on this remarkable, impossible day, I just want to say, I am in love with you too.
I end with one final thought. A few years ago I was given a medal from the French Government. They made me a Commander of Letters. A Commander, can you believe it? I wore this medal, proudly, for many of my final years.
And so, today, speaking to all of you with immense gratitude and love, I have but one thing to say: I command you to go into that beautiful library, right there, pick up a book, and read it.
And I command you to do one more thing: to continue loving me forever, as I will love you.