Having written more than 50 books, 500 short stories and screenplays, Ray Bradbury is considered one of the greatest fiction writers of the 20th century. The classic books Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, and The Illustrated Man have been made into radio, television and film adaptations. Now, at the age of 88, Bradbury still writes each day, will have two new books published this summer and travels the world giving lectures.

Michael O’Kelly is a Ventura artist, owner of California Pottery and Tile Works in Los Angeles and director of the Ray Bradbury Theater and Film Foundation. O’Kelly sat down with Ray Bradbury to discuss life, love and libraries.

— David Comden

O’Kelly: Hopefully, you’ll be able to help inspire people in Ventura to understand the value of the library and to mobilize to help it get funded.
Bradbury: It should be, because the library is the most important place in any community. Most of us need to be educated, but we don’t have money to go to a university or to college. I’m proof of that. When I was 18 years old, I graduated from high school. My father had been out of work for years. We had no money; I couldn’t go to college so I said, “I’ll go to the library.” I went three days a week for 10 years, and I educated myself in the library, and I graduated in the library when I was 28 years old. I had published my first book that year, and I took it to the library and gave two copies. So I was deeply grateful for those librarians, and then I married a librarian.

MK: Today, in the schools, the English literature departments are encouraging children and teenagers to spend more and more time using the computer, and it seems to be a bit of a battle between using computers and reading books. How do we encourage kids and why is it so important for kids to be reading books instead of reading on a string?
My answer to that is, Yahoo called me a few months ago and they wanted to put my books on the Internet, and I said, “Yahoo, listen to this, to hell with you! Go away! To hell with you! I believe in books!” So parents should say to the teachers, “Forget computers.” Put a book in their hands, it’s important; and they can carry it with them anywhere.

MK: Wright library is currently being used by eight schools. What do you think would be the best way for us to get the parents and the teachers to mobilize, really get behind preserving a library like this, and encourage the kids to continue using it?
As I was saying, you tell the parents that the library is the most important element of their city. It’s more important than any school or any college because it’s free. You get all this education for free; they go in and browse and begin themselves.

The teacher doesn’t tell them who they are; they tell themselves who they are. When I found myself in the library, and I opened a book and looked in, I said, “No, that’s not me.” And then I opened another book and said, “Yep, that’s me.” H.G. Welles, Jules Verne, all those great people, even Edgar Rice Burroughs who wrote Tarzan — that was me, too.

MK: Your book Fahrenheit 451 is on reading lists for the national library system and the national school system. Why do you think that book is as relevant today as it was when you wrote it?
Because we see that there is censorship and book restriction all over the world. China is still a communist country. There’s no freedom of speech; there’s book-burning there. There are other countries where that still exists,, too. In Russia, they’re still not completely free; and in the history of Europe, there is the history of burning books by Hitler, and that influenced me to write that book when I was 31 years old. I remember what Hitler did; I remember what Stalin did. So all over, there are still societies where books are not published, but they’re burned.

MK: I’m interested to know, what do you think human life will be like 50 years from now? What do you think society will be like; how do you think we’ll be behaving?
What we have to do is not spend our money on the 10th grade, the 11th grade, the 12th grade — it’s too late. The children are not enthused. We need to take all of our money and spend it on the 3-year-olds, 4-year-olds, 5-year-olds and 6-year-olds. That way, by the time that they get to the first grade, they will completely know how to read and write. Your formal education is done then, and you have books for the rest, and children that love books. But all the money that we’re wasting right now on the upper grades has got to be put back to the younger children. And then we’d have a perfect society, because they’d have a perfect education.

MK: You should run for political office. When are you planning to run for president?
(Laughs) I would love to, I would. If I were 30 years younger, I would.

MK: What is your daily regimen right now? How much are you able to write, and what are you currently up to?
I still write every day. I’m writing a new book; I’ve just written 12 new stories. My regimen is the same. I write every morning, I’ve been doing it for 70 years now. I live by the principle of write what you love and love what you write. I don’t listen to people that tell me what to do; I say, “Go to hell.” They don’t know what I want, but I know what I want.   

Ray Bradbury will kick off the Wright Library Author Series, Saturday, June 20 from 2-5:30 p.m. at the Ventura College Theatre at the 4700 block on Loma Vista. Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for children younger than 12 and seniors 65 or older. E-mail purchase requests to hpwrightlibrary@gmail.com or call 644-9247. All proceeds will go to keep H.P. Wright Library open. Wright Library is located in 57 Day Road in Ventura.