Ray Bradbury won over generations of readers to science fiction with “Fahrenheit 451” and other works during a writing career that spanned much of the 20th Century and produced a mountain of manuscripts, correspondence and memorabilia.
That sprawling collection, much of which Bradbury’s family donated after his death in 2012 at age 91, is now entering a long-running preservation project at its home on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis.
The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies , which is devoted to the study of the science fiction-fantasy author’s works, won a $50,000 grant this month from the National Endowment for the Humanities to begin planning the giant archive’s conservation.
“This is a national treasure and we have the great, good fortune to be able to preserve his legacy here for years to come,” said Jonathan Eller, who befriended Bradbury in the 1980s and directs the center, which he co-founded in 2007.
Although Bradbury wrote his most famous titles in the mid-20th century, including “Fahrenheit 451,” a novel about a dystopian future in which “firemen” hunt down and burn books to keep society in a state of ignorance, Eller said many of his works remain relevant because of their warnings about the misuse of technology and the importance of safeguarding the human imagination.
“He stands as much as any author for freedom of the imagination. With ‘Fahrenheit 451,’ which was written when there was a climate of fear in America and McCarthyism, and other works, he’s still synonymous with freedom of the imagination,” he said.
Bradbury’s major works, including “The Martian Chronicles” and “The Illustrated Man,” remain in print and HBO will next month air a version of “Fahrenheit” starring Michael Shannon, Michael B. Jordan and Sofia Boutella.
Meanwhile, the Bradbury center, which is near downtown Indianapolis and features a replica of the basement office in Los Angeles where the author wrote for decades, is preparing to delve into the collection he left behind for what’s expected to be a yearslong preservation effort.
It won’t be an easy task: The collection weighs nearly 30,000 pounds and includes unpublished works, 120,000 pages of his typescripts and other documents as well as photos and memorabilia. There’s also about 30,000 pages of Bradbury’s incoming correspondence, including letters from astronauts and astronomers who were fans of his space-age tales, and some 1,600 rare pulp magazines such as “Amazing Stories.”
Eller said it will take years and more funding to sort, categorize, stabilize and digitize the contents, including brittle documents that dried out in Southern California’s arid climate.
Bradbury was born in Waukegan, Illinois, in 1920, but his family moved to Los Angeles in 1934 during the height of the Great Depression. His first short story was published when he was 18, and he rose to literary fame in 1950 with “The Martian Chronicles,” a collection of loosely connected stories about Mars’ colonization by humans fleeing a troubled Earth.
During his more than 70-year career, he was a novelist, screenwriter and short story writer who worked in the fantasy, horror and mystery genres and adapted many of his short stories for television, including “The Twilight Zone” series. Bradbury also scripted John Huston’s 1956 film version of “Moby Dick.”
His wife of 57 years, Marguerite, died in 2003. A year after their father died, Bradbury’s four daughters made a large donation to the Bradbury center, including two of his desks, three of his typewriters and 31 filing cabinets brimming with documents he kept at his Los Angeles and Palm Springs homes.
Those items made the trip from California to Indiana in 2013 in a 53-foot moving van that also included a cache of Bradbury’s typescripts and other documents donated by his long-time friend and principal bibliographer, Donn Albright.
Bradbury’s daughters said in a statement Wednesday that they’re thrilled the federal grant will help the center “preserve and curate our father’s legacy for the American public. This is our long-term goal.”
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