Monday, February 27, 2006

The passing of writer Octavia Butler makes us all poorer

Science fiction writer Octavia Butler died this weekend at age 58.

A writer whose works showed that speculative fiction is about far more than rayguns and space ships, Butler received a McArthur Foundation “genius” grant and was the first black woman to gain prominence in the field.

She never took the easy way out in her work. Reading one of her stories or novels challenged you to think about humanity, race and yourself in ways you could never have conceived before you picked up her work. I’m not even certain I knew the right questions to ask myself about society before I read her.

In my non-political, non-blogging life I’ve been active in the science fiction community, written a bit, and worked with the organization of women writers in the field, Broad Universe. I regret that I never had a chance to meet her. I was so blessed, though, to have had the opportunity to read her amazing work. We were all richer for her having been on this Earth. We are all poorer because of her passing.

Other obits and articles are available here:

From boing boing (which links to more blogs and articles)

From USA Today

Steven Barnes was one of the first to post news of Butler's passing. The comments section on his post reads like a Who’s Who of the genre and give an uninitiated reader more of an idea of Butler’s impact on readers and the field of science fiction.

Here's some background on Octavia Butler:

Wikipedia entry

2000 Locus magazine interview

NPR Weekend Edition piece

Interview on her novel Kindred


Seattle Times

Nilanjana S Roy from New Delhi, India

NYC Indymedia interview with Butler on her new novel, Fledgling

The discussion at writer Nalo Hopkinson's blog. Nalo is one of the founders of the Carl Brandon Society, which promotes the visibility of people of colour in SF/F/H community

[update after 6 pm]

Writer Justine Larbalestier points us toward two Butler stories that are still up online. I’ve read “The Book of Martha” (wow!), but didn’t know about “Amnesty.” Thanks Justine.

More from NPR

[updated 2/28]

The Washington Post published a touching appreciation of Butler called "A Lonely, Bright Star of the Sci-Fi Universe." The site requires you to register, but the story is well worth reading. It quotes Steven Barnes:

"She obviously had spent a tremendous amount of her early life feeling very, very alone," Barnes said. "She had no tribe. She didn't fit in any place. Her own family thought she was nuts . . . because of what she wanted to do with her life."

At one time Barnes lived just six blocks from Butler and they would spend time together, having dinner or just talking. One of the questions she seemed to care greatly about was, "Why is it that we are so cruel to each other?" Barnes says.

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