Monday, February 27, 2006


I've been thinking about Octavia Butler all day today, since I woke up this morning and read the news of her sudden death. I met Octavia when I was living in California back in 1998. She was charming and fierce and funny and smart and above all else, she told the truth. And on top of that, she told it nicely. When someone tells the truth, it's an event that can easily slip into anger and self-righteousness or condescension. But one night when I went to hear Octavia Butler read from her "Parable of the Sower" and "Parable of the Talents" books, I saw someone tell the truth with such kindness that I'd never seen in that sort of a moment. There were a group of African American women who had come to hear her read. They had not ever read her books and it soon became obvious that they had come because Octavia was a black author who had written books with references to the Bible for their titles. These women were church going ladies, and when Octavia asked the audience for questions, they spent a good amount of time trying to get her to say she was a Christian, or at least spiritual. She *had* to be, in their minds. Octavia chuckled a little at their insistence, the way they tried to tell her what she was as if they knew better, but casually, without any irritation or anger or frustration, told them she was neither Christian nor religious nor even spiritual. She said it all with a kind smile and the ladies who so wanted her to be like them still couldn't help but like her and kept insisting she was at least spiritual whether she realized it herself or not. Some people, after the ladies left, began to verbalize their annoyance with them, but Octavia only continued to talk in a very even manner, smiling, and said they weren't so bad as all that. She had seen troublemakers at these sorts of things and they certainly weren't that. She joked that they'd read her books that they bought and find out just how unChristian she was, and wondered if they'd still want to insist on including her in their group after that. She had a word for everyone and was one of the warmest people I'd ever met. We haven't only just lost a great science fiction writer. We've lost a good person. I hope wherever you are, Octavia, you're smiling and flying high and free.


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