This morning started out like any other work day. I got up, got ready, and left the apartment, blah blah blah. When I got to the bus stop, I started looking over the newspapers as I normally do while waiting for the bus. Down at the bottom right, right above the fold is where I saw the headline, "Octavia Butler 1948 - 2006." Wha? Huh? I was shocked and exclaimed to everyone there, "Octavia Butler died?!" I felt like I was living the scene in Roxanne when Steve Martin's character buys a paper, looks at it, screams, and throws it back in the paperbox. Except that I didn't buy the paper so I couldn't toss it back.
I spent the bus ride thinking about what I'd post up on Seattle Metblogs about this development, but my co-author beat me to it. Seems I was the last to know. Not that I should have been the first, but perhaps if I'd been less obsessive about perfecting my vegetable pot pie this weekend, I might have noticed some news. And in fact, tributes and obit notices are all over the net. Most note Butler's writing awards and history and remark on what a "good soul" she was. I will have to concur with the overwhelming sentiment that the world is lesser without her in it.
For the first time ever, I feel personally affected by a celebrity death. I only met her once, briefly, as she signed my copy of Fledgling after a reading at Elliott Bay a few months ago. Her talk was witty and later she was very nice to me, the mute idiot shoving a book in her face. I was thrilled to see her in person and hear her speak. She didn't disappoint the vision I had formed of her in my head after reading most (if not all) of her books.
Isn't it funny how you can think you know someone because you've read their work? Of course, fiction is fiction and not autobiographical, but authors - especially good ones like Butler - put part of themselves into a book. Which is why I feel like I really first met her in college. One of my lit professors ran a course on African American literature focusing only on Butler. We read Kindred and the Parable books and the Xenogenesis series, all of which I loved. I was the biggest geek in class, raising my hand Horshack style, reading well ahead of the class because I couldn't put the books down. For a genre that's often dismissed, Butler did quite a bit to elevate it. Her books brought forth a serious and unique perspective on modern society and alluded to solutions to today's real world problems. She had an amazing voice and talent; gifts that she used to the best of her ability.
What else is there to say? If you haven't read any of her work, do so. You won't be disappointed. And I will take solace in the fact that a great author never truly leaves.
UPDATE: A better tribute than mine: http://www.edrants.com/?p=2817