Sci-fi author
Octavia Butler dies at 58

Octavia Butler,
considered the first black woman to gain national
prominence in the United States as a science fiction writer,
has died, a close friend said. She was 58. Butler fell
and struck her head on the cobbled walkway outside her
home, Leslie Howle, a longtime friend and employee at
the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, said
Sunday. The lesbian writer, who suffered from high blood
pressure and heart trouble and could take only a few
steps without stopping for breath, was found outside
her home in the north Seattle suburb of Lake Forest
Park and died Friday, Howle said.

Butler's work
wasn't preoccupied with robots and ray guns, Howle said,
but used the genre's artistic freedom to explore race,
poverty, politics, religion, and human nature. "She
stands alone for what she did," Howle said. "She was
such a beacon and a light in that way."

Jane Jewell,
executive director of the Science Fiction and Fantasy
Writers of America, said Butler was one of the first black
women to explore the genre and the most prominent. But
Butler would have been a major writer of science
fiction regardless of race or gender, she said. "She
is a world-class science fiction writer in her own right,"
Jewell said. "She was one of the first and one of the best
to discuss gender and race in science fiction."

Butler began
writing at age 10, telling Howle she embraced science
fiction after seeing a schlocky B-movie called Devil Girl
From Mars
and thinking, "I can write a better
story than that." In 1970 she took a bus from her
hometown of Pasadena, Calif., to attend a fantasy writers
workshop in East Lansing, Mich.

Her first novel,
Kindred, in 1979, featured a black woman who
travels back in time to the U.S. South to save a white
man. She went on to write about a dozen books, plus numerous
essays and short stories. Her most recent work,
Fledgling, an examination of the Dracula legend,
was published last fall.

She received many
awards, and in 1995 Butler was the first science
fiction writer granted a "genius" award from the John D. and
Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, which paid $295,000 over
five years. Butler described herself as a happy
hermit, and never married. "Mostly she just loved
sitting down and writing," Seattle-based science
fiction writer Greg Bear said. "For being a black female
growing up in Los Angeles in the '60s, she was attracted to
science fiction for the same reasons I was: It
liberated her. She had a far-ranging imagination, and
she was a treasure in our community." (Gene Johnson,
via AP)

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