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Jay Neugeboren

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Ray Bradbury, 1921-2012

Posted: 06/11/2012 6:15 pm

A working writer to the most literal of ends, Ray Bradbury published a memoir about his early infatuation with science fiction, and his coming-of-age as a writer, in the June 4 science fiction issue of The New Yorker, one day before his passing from this world on June 5, at the age of 91. But 67 years ago, at the beginning of his career and before he had published his first book, getting his work published was not as easy as it later became.

In 1945, Martha Foley selected his story, "The Big Black and White Game," published that year in The American Mercury, for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories. To her surprise, however, she received a telegram from Bradbury in which he stated that under no circumstances would he ever allow a story of his to be printed in her anthology. Foley, who was editor of the annual Best American Short Stories from 1943 until her death in 1977, and who had published an early story by Bradbury (perhaps his first -- there are several claimants) when she was editor of STORY Magazine in the thirties, was puzzled, and mentioned the telegram to a New York editor who knew Bradbury. A few days later she received a second telegram from Bradbury, stating that he had changed his mind, and that it had been his great hope for many years to have a story selected for The Best American Short Stories.

A year or so later, Foley met Bradbury in New York and asked him what had happened to cause his change of mind. Bradbury laughed, and told her he had never changed his mind. He had been on the outs with a girlfriend, and the girlfriend, without Bradbury's knowledge, had taken to getting to his mailbox every day before Bradbury did. The young woman had read the letter from Martha Foley and had sent the first telegram in Bradbury's name.

And after the success of his first collection of stories, The Martian Chronicles, in 1950, Bradbury, now sought after by well-paying New York magazines, asked an editor how the magazine kept records on submissions. He was given access to the magazine's files, wrote down the titles of a half-dozen stories the magazine had previously rejected, went home to California, and -- ever a resourceful writer who knew how to use fiction to advance his science-fiction -- changed the titles, resubmitted the stories, and sold them all.

Jay Neugeboren, whose 19th and 20th books are The Other Side of the World (November, 2012) and The American Sun & Wind Moving Picture Company (January, 2013), is editor of Martha Foley's memoirs, The Story of STORY Magazine.

 
 
 
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