The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Monday, February 27, 2006

Octavia



During the 80’s, we lived within walking distance of each other, and often got together for dinner.  I sensed a deep loneliness in Octavia, but also humor, vast intelligence, and a level of investment in her craft that was simply phenomenal.  For years Samuel Delaney, Octavia and I were the only black SF writers.  “Chip” Delaney hasn’t been in the field for years.  Octavia continued to soar.  Other black writers entered the field…almost all of them fantasists, not SF writers.  Why?  I could only offer theories. Now, Octavia is gone, and I feel a sense of loss so incredibly deep that I have no words. 

What does it take to be a writer of such depth and courage?  I say, the capacity to dig into your own wounds, to fold yourself, concentrate yourself so purely into the work that your own life is eclipsed in comparison.  To live in the penumbra of your own work.  There are costs to this…costs that I encourage my students to avoid.  But those who suggest that great artists must suffer have valid arguments to present.  Dying at 58, in my mind, is just too young.  There was so much more for her to do.  And yet, she had done so much already…

What is right?  Ultimately, we have to live by our own standards, according to our own values.  I can only hope that at the end of the day, in the depths of her dying heart, Octavia felt that this is what she had done.  I can pray that that is true.

She was one of the best.  Thank God that the world recognized it while she was could still hear the applause.

2 comments:

An Aspiring Sci-Fi Writer said...

Ever since I picked up "Kindred" six years ago, I had been hooked on Octavia's words, visions, and intelligence. She awakened in me the procrastinating yet ambitious writer, the paradoxical manchild opening his eyes for the first time.

I created a project for a class one day that was all about Octavia and how she had watched a terrible Z-movie and realized she could write something better. I can relate to that!! LOL!! My wife tells me the same thing all the time; "You can do better than that! Don't give up! Keep writing!" OEB has always been my soulsister and always will be and in her name, I pursue that art which has no end, the creation of worlds from the beauty of words.

matt said...

I only recently discovered Octavia Butler's work and quickly raced through all but one (Kindred I'm saving). She is an indescribable, wonderful, human powerful voice. I think the fact that she was black and a woman are absolutely crucial factors in this and that she brought that weight of real human suffering, struggling, loss to her work. The stakes were high in her stories because you could feel the weight and pressure of her love for her characters, something that you don't feel in almost any other SF writer that I'm aware of. She brought a unique combination of huge sweeping ideas and powerfully human character that I am bitterly disappointed not to be able to continue exploring in new works by her. I came to her and lost her potential in such a short window and feel the loss very acutely.