By Sam Weller (MFA '01), associate professor, Fiction Writing
Sam Weller and Ray Bradbury / Photo: Zen Sekizawa
For 12 years, I worked side by side with writer Ray Bradbury as his biographer. During this time, I picked up an abundance of invaluable approaches to creativity. The author of Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine—as well as 600 published short stories, poems, and essays—was a Vesuvius of ideas and prolificacy. Bradbury passed away on June 5, 2012, at age 91, but in his nine decades of creative output, he won an Emmy; received an Oscar nomination; designed shopping plazas; wrote screenplays, teleplays, and radio dramas; owned his own theater company; and received medals from presidents and prime ministers.
Because of his fearless creative ethos and fluid movement across artistic genres, Bradbury is a poster child for Columbia College Chicago. I teach a class dedicated to the man and his work in the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia. Each and every day I hope to channel him for the benefit of my students. In my years working with the man and studying his body of work, many lessons emerge. But through serious critical analysis of his oeuvre, this point is one I share with all of my students: The best creations are conjured from a point of emotional truth. Bradbury wrote stories of humanity, culled from his own experiences with joy and sorrow, death and loss, injustice, censorship, poverty, family, wonder, and an unbridled celebration of life itself. Whether or not these emotional experiences were supplanted to Mars, near-future dystopias, small-town America, or the tenements of East Los Angeles, Bradbury wrote from a point of his truth. He articulated his heart through his imagination. And this is the point I make to my students: It’s not always about writing what you know. It’s about writing what you feel.