Read the full article “Letters in Knopf archive show challenges Ray Bradbury faced early in his career”
After being rejected by Alfred A. Knopf, Ray Bradbury’s first novel, “Dark Carnival,” was published by Arkham House, a press associated with H.P. Lovecraft and his circle of fellow science fiction writers. “Dark Carnival” was printed as a limited edition of only 3,000 copies, making first editions of the novel some of the most rare books in the history of sci-fi literature. Ellery Queen book collection.
The Ransom Center’s copy of “Dark Carnival” is inscribed by Bradbury to Frederic Dannay, who wrote mystery novels under the pseudonym Ellery Queen. Dannay was an early supporter of Bradbury, as well as an avid book collector, and multiple copies of Bradbury’s works are found in the extensive Ellery Queen book collection at the Ransom Center.
“Fahrenheit 451,” Bradbury’s most successful novel, tells the story of futuristic firemen who burn books, believing that printed words fill citizens with contradictory values and threatening ideas. Since its publication the book has been discussed as Bradbury’s most pointed attack on censorship, anti-intellectualism, mass culture, totalitarianism, and the McCarthyism of the 1950s.
Bradbury inscribed this first edition of “Fahrenheit 451” to Rita Smith, a New York fiction editor who was also the sister of Carson McCullers. In the 1940s Smith was an editor at “Mademoiselle” magazine. A young staff member, Truman Capote, found one of Bradbury’s short stories in the magazine’s slush pile of submissions and recommended it to Smith, who advocated its publication and became a lifelong friend of Bradbury’s.
Though rejected by the firm Alfred A. Knopf early in his career, Bradbury would become one of the publishing house’s highly valued authors in the 1970s. In this letter to his editor Nancy Nicholas, Bradbury, who was working on his autobiography “Dandelion Wine,” included a picture of himself at the age of three. He jocularly describes the photograph as “beautifully serious, as if the young writer had just been disturbed in the midst of some creative activity.” The Ransom Center’s Alfred A. Knopf archive houses extensive correspondence between Bradbury and editors at Knopf, as well as the original reader’s report that encouraged rejecting Bradbury’s work in 1948. Alfred A. Knopf collection.
A photograph of Ray Bradbury, age three. Bradbury spent most of his childhood in Waukegan, Illinois, a small community on the western shore of Lake Michigan. Waukegan became the model for the “Green Town” that was the setting for many of his stories. As a boy Bradbury enjoyed fairy tales, horror movies, traveling carnivals, and visiting the local public library, and aspects of each of these interests would influence his later books and characters. Alfred A. Knopf collection.
François Truffaut, Julie Christie, and Oskar Werner on the set of “Fahrenheit 451” (1966). Lewis Allen collection.