Ray Bradbury center eyes museum for 'Fahrenheit 451' author
INDIANAPOLIS -- Marrying science fiction, space exploration, intellectual freedom and the human heart is no simple feat. But 30,000 pounds of letters, photos, manuscripts, books and paraphernalia at the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies offer insight into how the "Fahrenheit 451" author accomplished it.
Part of the Indiana University School of Liberal Arts at IUPUI, the collection is jammed into 1,600 square feet of space on the first floor of Cavanaugh Hall. Its aisles allow only one person to pass through at a time. Movie posters and photos of Bradbury with Steven Spielberg, Joe Mantegna and Edward James Olmos line white cinderblock walls with mere inches separating them. The staff has to set out on filing cabinets his National Medal of Arts and Pulitzer Prize Special Citation for inquiring visitors.
Considering the collection started in a 500-square-foot basement room, the current space is a step up. But its proprietors want more for what has grown into the largest collection of Bradbury's personal and career effects. They want a national museum and archive that ideally would open in 2020, the centennial of Bradbury's birth year.
So center director Jon Eller and his team are working every possible angle to find a spot that offers enough space for an interactive experience. It will be one of just a handful of single-author archives and museums in the United States. And it will be one worth more than $6.2 million.
"If you want to talk about writers at the level of Bradbury, then yes, you can count the number of archives on your hand in terms of marrying an author of this quality to an archive this comprehensive," said Jon Parrish Peede, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
In popular culture, Bradbury's name has become synonymous with his masterworks "The Martian Chronicles" and "Fahrenheit 451." The latter was notably in the news when Michael B. Jordan starred as hero Guy Montag in the 2018 remake of the movie based on the book. To more informed science fiction and fantasy fans, he's the champion who wrote "The Golden Apples of the Sun" and "I Sing the Body Electric and Other Stories."
But the people close to him, like Eller, can tell more personal stories. Like why Bradbury rode in cars but wouldn't drive them. Or that the author, who championed space exploration, was afraid of flying until those he worked with at the Walt Disney Co. coaxed him onto a plane at age 61.
Eller met Bradbury in 1989 when the United States Air Force Academy, where Eller was teaching at the time, hosted the author for a science-fiction conference. The two were good friends for more than two decades until Bradbury died in 2012 at age 91. In 2007, Eller and fellow Bradbury scholar Bill Touponce, both of whom taught English at IUPUI, co-founded a Bradbury reference library and archive.
The library produced an academic journal, "The New Ray Bradbury Review," and the multi-volume "Collected Stories of Ray Bradbury." And it resided in 500 square feet in the basement of the Education/Social Work Building at IUPUI.
During the course of Eller and Bradbury's friendship, Eller began writing a three-volume biography series that has made him privy to fascinating details about the sci-fi author. And what has now grown into 30,000 pounds of Bradbury's belongings at IUPUI carry pieces of his life that flesh out the stories his fans have come to love.
Growing up during the Depression - first in Waukegan, Illinois, and then in Los Angeles - Bradbury didn't have money for a college education. So he sold newspapers and educated himself at public libraries, gobbling up as much writing as he could. The center has his copy of Hartrampf's Vocabulary, a thesaurus with special groupings of synonyms and antonyms, which the author carted on a bus ride to a New York science fiction convention. He used it to structure characters and plots.
Bradbury only ever seriously dated one woman, a bookstore clerk in Los Angeles who thought he was suspicious because he always wore a trench coat inside her shop. But Marguerite McClure began talking with him, and they married a little more than a year after they met.
The couple had four daughters and several cats. Bradbury wrote down every name and nickname of the latter on a torn sheet of notebook paper - one of 130,000 pages of documents the center now has in 31 filing cabinets.
Although Bradbury wrote in genres like detective fiction, his passion was publishing sci-fi and fantasy novellas, short stories, movie scripts, novels and plays for TV and the stage. His career spanned seven decades and garnered him a wealth of fans, astronauts and major writers among them. John Steinbeck even read Bradbury's stories to his own kids, Eller said.
"Science fiction was like an armature for him, a skeleton," Eller said. "He was really writing about people, and he's really exploring the human heart."
After its start in 2007 as a reference library, Donn Albright, Bradbury's friend and bibliographer, gifted the center books and materials from his own collection. In 2013, the author's family gave personal and work-related effects to the center, and Albright donated more books and papers Bradbury had left to him. The gifts from that year alone equal 18,000 pounds and are worth an estimated $6.2 million, Eller said.
The center moved to the first floor of Cavanaugh Hall in 2016, after a stop-over in an unused lab on the fourth floor. Along with Bradbury's high-profile awards and gifts, it houses a replica of his study from his Los Angeles home. It's stuffed with the books that shaped his writing style, his correspondence, IBM Wheelwriter typewriter and the materials he used to paint the "Halloween Tree."
His collection of rare pulp magazines date back to 1914. Foreign editions of his books in Arabic, Russian, Tamil, Armenian and other languages, including the first-edition Danish "233 Celsius," line rows of bookshelves. The contents of Bradbury's filing cabinets are in the same order he had them in, which Eller admits are organized as only the author would understand.
The collection has become a compelling destination for scholars and students.
Eller "has this really fascinating combination that he plays with between knowing Ray personally, having Ray's effects still with him but also having a critical eye as a scholar," said Raymond Haberski Jr., the director of the American Studies Program that oversees the center.
That the center could be one of a few dozen single-author archives in the country is a prospect that excites Haberski. Researchers studying the writer can meet one another and collaborate more easily. They don't have to hop between universities and the author's family to write comprehensive biographies, Peede said.
People can "have the time to sit there literally in Bradbury's office or among his books and get a sense for what one author, one thinker, saw while he wrote, what was the sort of environment in which that person existed," Haberski said.
The Bradbury center adds another major research stop to Indiana. The Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library, which houses the largest publicly displayed collection of his materials, will open a new space in Indianapolis. And a bulk of Vonnegut's papers are housed at Indiana University's Lilly Library.
Additionally, another endeavor devoted to the author, called the Ray Bradbury Experience Museum, is pursuing fundraising to open in his hometown of Waukegan. It will include interactives dedicated to exploring expression, creativity and censorship through "Fahrenheit 451" and "The Martian Chronicles."
Making the Bradbury collection public was of particular importance when the National Endowment for Humanities chose to give the Bradbury center $50,000 to process and preserve the materials.
"Discoverability is essential," Peede said. "If you have a great collection in a library that no one's aware of and no one can get to, then it's not as meaningful, frankly, as a collection such as this one that is exquisite, essential and also accessible."
The next steps are to figure out where on campus it will go. More funding will be necessary. Haberski said IUPUI will look to private donors and foundations and grants from federal and state agencies, among other fundraising opportunities.
"The National Endowment for the Humanities has created a new category for infrastructure grants. We'll give grants up to $750,000 for projects such as this," Peede said. "So I think as the university looks at the next stage, that's a conversation that they could ideally be having with the humanities endowment."
For the future, Eller, Jason Aukerman, the center's coordinator for development and programming, and their team are dreaming up an integrative experience that serves schools, libraries, and Gen Con and Indiana Comic Convention patrons. His awards and mementos would be on display. Maybe people could use one of his typewriters in an interactive experience and handle the foreign editions of books.
"We also have to be able to bring the public in on the story of Ray Bradbury," Eller said. "This is the fourth generation of schoolchildren who read Ray Bradbury.
"Why are we still drawn to these stories? (Students) can come in and see why. At the same time, they'll learn a little bit about why freedom of the imagination is important."
IF YOU GO:
Visitors should call or email ahead to set up a tour of the center. Call 317-274-1451. Or send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org or Jason Aukerman at email@example.com.
Those interested in donating can visit liberalarts.iupui.edu/giving or scroll down to the "Give Now" button at bradbury.iupui.edu.
Source: The Indianapolis Star
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com