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    Monday, February 27, 2006

    R.I.P. Octavia Butler


    Butler, 58, died after falling and striking her head Friday on a walkway outside her home in Lake Forest Park.

    She remains the only science fiction writer to receive one of the vaunted "genius grants" from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, a hard-earned $295,000 windfall in 1995 that followed years of poverty and personal struggles with shyness and self-doubt. ...

    Butler's most popular work is "Kindred," a time-travel novel in which a black woman from 1976 Southern California is transported back to the violent days of slavery before the Civil War. The 1979 novel became a popular staple of school and college courses and now has more than a quarter million copies in print, but its birth was agonizing, like so much in Butler's solitary life.

    "Kindred" was repeatedly rejected by publishers, many of whom could not understand how a science fiction novel could be set on a plantation in the antebellum South. Butler stuck to her social justice vision - "I think people really need to think what it's like to have all of society arrayed against you" - and finally found a publisher who paid her a $5,000 advance for "Kindred." ...

    The MacArthur grant brought increasing visibility to Butler and allowed her to buy her first house, where she tended to her ailing mother until her death. (Butler's survivors are two elderly aunts and many cousins in Southern California.)

    But the MacArthur grant also brought daunting pressure. Three years later, Butler published "Parable of the Talents," winner of one of her two Nebula Awards in science fiction. Then years passed without another new novel, as projects in Seattle "petered out." Characters and ideas went nowhere and her blood pressure medication left her drowsy and depressed.

    The frustrated artist - who first turned to writing at 12 after the sci-fi movie, "Devil Girl from Mars," convinced her that she could write something better - battled worries that "maybe I cannot write anymore."

    But at long last, an unlikely vampire novel rekindled her creative fires and brought a burgeoning joy to her craft.

    "I can't say I've had much fun in the last few years, what with my version of writer's block," a relieved Butler recalled in 2004. "Writing has been as difficult for me as for people who don't like to write and as little fun. But now the well is filling up again with this vampire novel."

    Butler's death means that "Fledgling," published last fall to enthusiastic praise, will likely stand as her final novel, to the great disappointment to Butler's many fans and friends who expected more work.

    3 Comments:

    Blogger Dark Daughta said...

    Thank you for this. What a shock. She was a goddess and an intellect among writers of whatever community.

    7:31 PM  
    Blogger EL said...

    She managed to break rigid professional certainties about race, class, and gender, but also genre. As important to me, her writing style was so distinctive. You know in two sentences that you're reading Butler.

    11:31 AM  
    Blogger C. said...

    She was an amazing writer. I hope to read all of her books.

    3:13 PM  

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