February 27, 2006

Octavia Butler, 1947 – 2006.

Octavia Butler

You don't start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it's good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That's why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence. It's just so easy to give up!
— Octavia Butler, 2000

Author Octavia Butler died Saturday after falling in front of her Seattle home and striking her head. She was only 58.

Butler was the author numerous science fiction novels and stories, with her most famous work being Kindred. In that novel, an African American woman from mid-1970s California is transported through time back to the pre-Civil War South. Her writing received recognition from within her field, winning Nebula Awards for her novelette 'Blood Child' in 1984 [for which she also won a Hugo Award] and her novel Parable of the Talents in 2000. In 1995, Butler received a MacArthur 'genius grant' — she is still the only science fiction writer to have gotten one.

Not incidentally, Butler was one of the few prominent African American writers in the still overwhelmingly white field of US science fiction.

In 2001, as the UN prepared to hold the World Conference on Racism, US public radio asked Butler to write an essay on a world without racism. You can read the essay and listen to an interview with Butler here.

In 2000, the SF trade journal Locus interviewed Butler. Some excerpts from that interview are posted here.

When I was in college, I began Kindred, and that was the first [novel] that I began, knowing what I wanted to do. The others, I was really too young to think about them in terms of 'What do you have to say in this novel?' I just knew there were stories I wanted to tell. But when I did Kindred, I really had had this experience in college that I talk about all the time, of this Black guy saying, 'I wish I could kill all these old Black people that have been holding us back for so long, but I can't because I have to start with my own parents.' That was a friend of mine. And I realized that, even though he knew a lot more than I did about Black history, it was all cerebral. He wasn't feeling any of it. He was the kind that would have killed and died, as opposed to surviving and hanging on and hoping and working for change. And I thought about my mother, because she used to take me to work with her when she couldn't get a baby sitter and I was too young to be left alone, and I saw her going in the back door, and I saw people saying things to her that she didn't like but couldn't respond to. I heard people say in her hearing, 'Well, I don't really like colored people.' And she kept working, and she put me through school, she bought her house — all the stuff she did. I realized that he didn't understand what heroism was. That's what I want to write about: when you are aware of what it means to be an adult and what choices you have to make, the fact that maybe you're afraid, but you still have to act.

There's a short biography and bibliography [complete through 2004] of Butler here. You can read her short story 'Amnesty' here.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer obituary for Butler is here. The obit in the Seattle Times is here. The AP obit can be found here, among other places.

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America [the field's professional organization] has started a page of remembrances of Butler here.

[The photo of Octavia Butler at the top of this post is by Joshua Trujillo of the Seattle P-I. My best guess is that it was taken in 2004.]

More: Nicolas Coukouma has posted a lovely 2005 photo of Octavia Butler at a booksigning here.

Posted by Magpie at February 27, 2006 09:33 PM | Women | Technorati links |

Sad news, indeed.

Posted by: Will at February 27, 2006 10:11 PM

Thank you, magpie, for posting this obituary for Octavia Butler. She was an incredible writer. How sad we've lost her voice.

Posted by: Mary Ratcliff at February 27, 2006 10:44 PM

I loved her work, it was beautiful. We needed her voice and I'm sad that we won't be hearing it anymore.

Posted by: natasha at February 28, 2006 07:47 PM