Third post of the morning already, but this is a sad and important one. One of Pasadena City College's most famous alumnae has died: Octavia Butler was only 58. She won the Hugo and Nebula awards, and in the white male dominated world of science fiction, Butler (an African-American lesbian) was an extraordinary figure. The college at which I teach has produced some fine and famous figures (Eddie Van Halen, Nick Nolte, Jerry Tarkanian, Jackie Robinson), but Butler was a unique and important writer, and she's been lost much too soon.
Do read this memorable interview with her, and this outstanding bit of advice she offered to aspiring young writers:
I have to be careful what I say to younger people, because every now and then someone will come up to me and say--"Oh, this touches on reading, but is not just reading." "What should I major in at college to become a writer?" I have to stop myself from saying that it's not so much what you major in at college or even that you go to college. It's that you read. I'm more likely to say, "What you should major in is something like history. Maybe you should take a good look at psychology and anthropology and sociology. Learn about people. Learn about different people. When I say history, I don't mean to tell you just to study the kings and queens and generals and wars. Learn how people live and learn the kinds of things that motivate people. Learn the kinds of things that we unfortunate human beings do over and over again. We don't really learn from history, because from one generation to the next we do tend to reproduce our errors. There are cycles in history. Even look into things like evolutionary biology; that goes back further, for instance, than history, further back than cultural anthropology would go. Learn all you can about the way we work, the way we tick.
Read all kinds of fiction. In school you're going to be assigned to read classics, and that's good, that's useful. A lot of it is good writing and will help you with your writing. But a lot of it is archaic good writing that won't necessarily help you with what you are doing now. So read the current best sellers; read something that is maybe going to spark a new interest in you.
Bold emphasis mine. Amen, sister Octavia, amen.
From a feminist perspective, it's been a hard past month -- far too many significant figures (Wasserstein, Friedan, King, Butler) dying far too young.
UPDATE: Here's a remembrance sent to me by an outstanding former student of mine, Liza Anulao:
I just found out the news about Octavia Butler's death earlier this morning, and was totally blue. It's strange, because it was just last night, before I had heard the news, that I was reading a quote she had written. I had cut out her quote from the paper 10 years ago and had glued it into my ancient organizer. Below the newspaper clipping she had signed her autograph when I had met her at one of her several readings. This is what she said: