Ray Bradbury Knew His Worth

The year was 1979. The project was to develop the upper grades (7 – 8 ) of a new elementary-school reading program … on an insane schedule. Two of us were acting on tips while also searching on our own for the proper reading selections to fit in the proper grade-level and thematic holes … again, to occur in record time. We were at work editing and fielding people’s questions/requirements each workday, and in libraries each evening and weekend reading for possible selections.

Down to the wire, we had a science fiction unit underway for inclusion in the grade 8 text. We had it completed except for needing some little story or excerpt that would fit (as I recall) on two pages. We found it! It was a Ray Bradbury short story. I’ll be darned if I can remember which one; I don’t have the books anymore and it was over thirty years ago. But I do remember it was a fantastic story with a great twist of an ending. We ran it over to the Permissions department to get the okay asap.

Word came back a few days later. Too bad that we were working on deadline. Too bad that we were an educational publishing house working on tight, tight budgets. Ray(‘s agent?) was charging $3,000 for the right to use it in the textbook. I don’t think we’d paid more than a thousand for anything at that point. What I do remember is the sinking heart and the despair I felt when I heard the figure and assumed we couldn’t pay it.

My boss said, “Fine, grab it.” Say what? This was my introduction to understanding that budgets were guidelines but not the final word, and that my boss did understand what we were all up against. It was also my introduction to the amazing story-telling talent of Ray Bradbury, and to the concept that one needs to know what one is worth and stick to it.

RIP, Ray Bradbury. (If anyone knows what short story that was, please Comment!)

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