Monday, February 27, 2006

Octavia Butler

Octavia Estelle Butler

(June 22, 1947-February 25, 2006)

was an American science fiction writer, one of very few African-American women in the field. She won both Hugo and Nebula awards, and was the first science fiction writer ever to be a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation "genius grant".

In 1984, Butler's "Bloodchild" won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novelette. That same year, her "Speech Sounds" won the best short story Hugo. She won the Nebula Award for best novel in 2000 with Parable of the Talents. In October 2000, she received an award for lifetime achievement in writing from PEN.

Butler moved to Seattle in November 1999. She described herself as "comfortably asocial--a hermit in the middle of Seattle--a pessimist if I'm not careful, a feminist, a Black, a former Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive." She died of head injuries following a fall on the walk outside of her home on February 25, 2006. She was 58. (from Wikipedia)

I had the great honor and privilege to share a long conversation with Ms. Butler at an SF convention in Baltimore a few years back. The first impression was one of being in the presence of a marvelous and encompassing intelligence. The second impression was of her deep interest in what you had to say. Not necessarily the most common of combinations.

We talked for over an hour of our fears for the human race and our common realization that little could be done to save us as a culture and as a species. Global warming, pandemics, racial and religious hatreds, and Peak Oil would all conspire to bring us down, we both felt. And neither of us had found many mitigating factors to our pessimism.

Yet it was far from a gloomy conversation. Her joy at thinking intensely about trying to solve these problems was palpable. She said she still refused to give up even in the face of what she thought was an inevitable future.

I was gratified, in a strange way, to have my thinking verified by someone whose intelligence and knowledge I so highly valued. And she made sure that we had a genuine conversation, one in which I not only had my share of time to speak, but one in which she discussed my points with the same intensity that we discussed hers.

I find it hard to imagine that her voice has been stilled by something as simple as a blow to the head. The world has lost a great voice indeed.

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