A friend e-mailed me tonight to let me know that Octavia Butler has died. I know that I've mentioned her here a couple of times. She was, without exception, my favorite science fiction writer. She was also the first African American (and among one of the first women) to make a real impact on what is a primarily white male genre.
I was living in DC when I was first introduced to her. A co-worker gave me a copy of Parable of the Sower. I devoured the book and went looking for more.
Her books dealt with themes of otherness, community, race, and gender. She tackled power and coercion. Her first book looked at the complexity of relationships between slave and master in antebellum south, as experienced by an African American woman from the '70s who is transported back in time. She was fearless in her writing, but most of all she was a compelling storyteller.
When I learned that she was going to be in DC speaking, my last summer there, I made a point to go to see her. It was clear from the start that she was painfully shy...she would clearly have rather been in front of a computer creating then standing at that podium talking about her work. But talk she did. She talked about craft. She talked about writing...just writing as the best way to create a story. She talked about taking a trip across country in a Greyhound to do research in Maryland.
Afterwards, when I handed her my book to sign, I mentioned that I was debating whether or not to take the bus or the train across country for my move to California. I said that hearing her tales of her journey had swung me in favor of the train. Her inscription to me read: "Don't ride the Dog!"
When I learned about her most recent book, Fledgling, about vampires, I rushed out. I went online to track down when she would be doing appearances, but had sadly missed the boat by about 2 weeks. And, then, of course, I was braced for the long wait for another. Now there will be no other.
I cannot express fully, at this time, all the ways that her writing has affected me. I am deeply saddened by her loss. If you haven't before, I encourage you to pick up one of her books (Kindred is a good one for those not heavily into science fiction...or the Parable books as well). You can also go here and read the exerpt from one of her essays that I posted to prepare for NaNoWriMo.
Later this week, I will post more about one of the ways in which my philosophy in life was profoundly affected by her writings.