I would not be a professor or writer today if it were not for author Ray Bradbury, who touched my life not only through his work, but through his generosity as well. We corresponded for a decade, trading letters from my senior year in high school until his death on June 5, 2012. In all that time, he shared insights not only on the writing life, but on life generally. Specifically, the importance of giving what you can to those who need it.
Ray mentored me for reasons I’ll never understand. I like to think my earnestness and enthusiasm reminded him of a younger version of himself. Or maybe, more likely, he just saw a young guy in need of a good edit and decided to intervene. Whatever the reason, he encouraged me when I needed it most, long before I’d had any success. Ultimately, it was his faith in me that allowed me to have a little faith in me, too.
Every time I enter the classroom here at UW-Eau Claire, I’m reminded of Ray’s generosity. And I’m reminded, too, of my obligation to pay his gift forward to the next generation of writers. Ray once wrote, “Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.” Which is to say: we don’t always know where the work will lead us, but we’ve got to take the risk. These days, my students and I take that leap together. Just as Ray and I did all those years ago.
Read B.J's essay about his relationship with Ray in The Millions.
Top photo caption: B.J. Hollars says every time he enters the classroom at UW-Eau Claire, he is reminded of his mentor’s generosity as well his obligation to pay his gift forward to the next generation of writers.