Archive for June, 2009

Octavia Butler, Science Fiction Pioneer, Dies After Fall in Seattle

Friday, June 5th, 2009

This post was originally published at NJ Spoken Word, Tuesday, February 28, 2006.

Octavia E. Butler, sci fi authorA dear friend, Aberjhani, shared the news of Octavia E. Butler’s death with me this morning. Known as a gifted pioneer in a genre of the industry dominated by white males, the African-American author was the first Science Fiction author to receive a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant.”

Butler, 58, died Friday, February 24, after she fell and hit her head outside her Seattle, Washington, home. You can read more details of her life and death here in the Seattle Post-Intelligence.

I first became aware of Octavia E. Butler’s work through the Seeing Ear Theatre’s website, which was at the time affiliated with the Sci Fi Channel. There I listened to an outstanding audio production of her book Kindred. Fortunately you can still listen to the book today at this link: The production stars Alfre Woodard, Lynn Whitfield, and features Ruby Dee.

Since then I’ve walked into other Butler worlds such as the Patternist series (my favorite is Mind of My Mind) and most recently her new book Fledgling. She is one of the few writers who can draw me into characters and setting and make me forget I am here on planet Earth. I still recall her people and her words in my daily life. I look forward to continuing my read through her works, and I mourn the literary world’s loss.

Additional Octavia Butler Links

  • Octavia Butler’s Voice (The Opinion Mill)
  • Steve Barnes Tribute to Octavia (Dar Kush, Barnes’ Blog)
  • An NPR Interview with Octavia Butler and an Essay by Octavia Butler at NPR (Yes, Steven Hart of The Opinion Mill, I did get this NPR link from your post. Thank you.)
  • Toni Morrison: Bordered Off!

    Thursday, June 4th, 2009

    This post was previously at NJ Spoken Word and published on Saturday, January 08, 2005

    I was in a New Jersey Borders Bookstore today searching for one of my favorite authors, Toni Morrison. book cover of 'Beloved,' by Toni Morrison, for which she won the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1993 I wanted to replace my copy of her book Sula. Couldn’t find the Nobel Prize Winner in the literature section. So I went to the information desk.

    “I’m probably blind,” I said, “But I can’t seem to find Toni Morrison.”

    “Toni Morrison? Oh she’d be in our African-American Literature section.”

    “What!” My voice shot up a decibel. “Oh, so we’re all sectioned off now, huh? Okay, well, I guess that’s good. It shows how fantastically well the black book market is doing, but Toni Morrison!”

    “Well, our African-American section is very popular,” said the young man.

    I’m sure it is. But Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize winning author, shoved off to a little section? I’m sure you have white readers running around wondering Where’s Toni Morrison? because they just don’t venture into your African-American section.”

    By now the young man was nodding, probably thinking, Great, so I score the angry black woman today. However, I wasn’t glowering at him. I was nodding and smiling. You know that sort of deranged “I can’t believe this effin’ crap!” nod-and-smile.

    So, Morrison’s finally broken free of always being called a great black author to being called simply a great American author only to find herself bordered-off, segregated again.

    Of course, Morrison’s in good company in her section. I mean, some of our favorite authors are black, you know. Richard Wright and James Baldwin also share black space with her. I’m glad publishers finally understand that black people do read, and they are publishing our work. I’m glad that Borders has found black writers to be so lucrative that its marketing department has created a section just for black literature, and I’m sure the segregation makes locating black authors more convenient for readers. How shopper friendly! However, Toni Morrison is a great American writer. At the very least she should be in both sections, Literature and African-American literature.

    Now that black authors are coming into their own in the book industry, I suppose the next hurdle will be integration…again. Or perhaps book stores and publishers will begin keeping track of black authors the same way the record industry does: “Hip Hop, R&B, and oh, the lucky bastards…Crossover.”

    Tootles, y’all,

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