THE IMPORTANCE OF ‘REAL TALENT – AND LUCK!’:
ARTHUR C. CLARKE WRITES TO A TEACHER AND HIS STUDENTS ABOUT THE NEXT GENERATION OF AUTHORS
CLARKE, Sir Arthur Charles – A small archive of correspondence, comprising:
(i) Sir Arthur C. CLARKE. Autograph note signed (‘Arth[ur] C Clarke’) to Bruce Becker, [?Burlingame, CA (postmark)], 11 November 1992. [Written at the foot of:]
(ii) Bruce BECKER. Printed letter signed (‘Bruce Becker’) to Arthur C. Clarke (‘Dear Mr Clarke’), 28 Almeda Place, Salinas, CA 93901, 28 October 1992. One page on wove paper, quarto (278 x 217mm). (Folded for despatch.) [With:]
(iii) Sir Arthur C. CLARKE. Photocopied printed letter with pre-printed letterhead addressed to ‘Dear Correspondent’ [i.e. Bruce Becker] with autograph note, ‘Leslie’s House’, 25 Barnes Place, Colombo 7, Sri Lanka, [c. 11 November 1992]. One page on wove paper, quarto (296 x 210mm). (Folded for despatch.)
(iv) Bruce BECKER. Autograph envelope addressed to Becker and with his address also given as the sender’s address, enclosed with his letter to Clarke (‘I have provided a self addressed envelope’), and apparently used by Clarke to return Becker’s letter with Clarke’s photocopied form letter, postmarked ‘BURLINGAME CA NOV 16’92’. (Old folds.)
Provenance: Christophe Stickel Autographs, Pacific Grove, CA (signed certificate of authenticity, dated 28 April 2005, indicating that these 3 items were offered in ‘Cat No 143’ as ‘Lot No. 24’) – Heritage Auctions, Dallas, TX (‘Weekly Internet Rare Books and Autographs Auctions #201214’, 5 April 2012, lot 91006).
A small archive comprising the complete correspondence between a teacher of literature and creative writing and Sir Arthur Charles Clarke (1917-2008), an English writer of science fiction and non-fiction best known for co-writing the script for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) in collaboration with Stanley Kubrick.
Bruce Becker, ‘a Literature and Creative Writing teacher and La Joya Year-Round School in Salinas, California’, had written to Clarke (presumably via his US agents, since Clarke had settled permanently in Sri Lanka in 1956), following a discussion with students on the purposes and merits of creative writing at a time when ‘all the great books have already been written and no new authors can become famous anyway’. Becker responded with surprise ‘at the large number of skeptics [in his class] that expressed doubt that there was any future for them in writing!’ and ‘promised them […] [to] write a letter to some of our most important writers and authors’ – among them Clarke – to ask: ‘Can today’s students become tomorrow’s literary leaders simply through hard work, creativity, and a good education?’ Clarke’s answer – added to the foot of the letter which he then returned to Becker, states “Yes – if they also have real talent – and luck!’
Becker’s letter forms part of a large correspondence Clarke received from readers of his science fiction and non-fiction writings, building upon the reputation and admiration he had acquired over the previous five or so decades. Among many others, Clarke was honoured with the Hugo and Nebula Awards, and ‘Mr. Clarke’s influence on public attitudes toward space was acknowledged by American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts, by scientists like the astronomer Carl Sagan and by movie and television producers. Gene Roddenberry credited Mr. Clarke’s writings with giving him courage to pursue his “Star Trek” project in the face of indifference, even ridicule, from television executives’ (obituary, New York Times, 18 March 2008), and he was knighted for services to literature in 2000.
The fact that Clarke replied to this letter at all is remarkable given not only the volume of correspondence he received, but also the state of his health, which had taken several turns for the worse. In 1962 he contracted polio, which caused long-term health problems. The form letter that Clarke enclosed in his reply to Becker was apparently written on a computer from his ‘ever-expanding collection of up-to-date computers and communications accessories’ that he used in order to ‘stay […] in touch with the rest of the world from his home in Sri Lanka’ (loc. cit), with the file path printed at the bottom. The letter explains that Clarke ‘cannot answer […] personally’ due to his health, ‘[h]aving been affected by Post-Polio Syndrome since 1984’ with additional limitations imposed by a slow recovery from surgery in the previous year: ‘there is very little left for creative writing!’. To this Clarke has added in his own hand ‘I’m involved in 4 books at the moment!’.
The four books Clarke refers to are likely those that he published in the following year: Clarke’s science-fiction novel The Hammer of God; Rama Revealed, which Clarke co-wrote with the American scientist, space engineer, and science fiction author Gentry Lee; his collection of non-fiction essays titled By Space Possessed; and Arthur C. Clarke’s A–Z of Mysteries, which he wrote with Simon Welfare and John Fairley.
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