Stephanie Burgis
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This morning I found out that Octavia Butler had passed away on Saturday, at the age of 58. I'm so sad, and shocked, and also a little numb...this year has already (by the end of February) been an annus horribilis in so many ways.

I've been a fan of her books for years, but when I actually met her in person, at a talk she gave in a Pittsburgh Borders bookstore in 2000, she changed the whole course of my life. I'd been thinking about applying to Clarion West the next year, knowing that she'd be a teacher, but I was so nervous about the prospect that there was very little chance that I would ever get my act together and apply. Then I found out that Octavia would be coming to town.

Instead of reading from a book or short story, Octavia talked about her development as a writer...which meant her experience as one of the first students in the Clarion workshop. She talked about the way it had changed her life and her writing. By the end of the talk, I was convinced that (a) I definitely needed to go to Clarion, and (b) it had to be that year, so that I could have her as a teacher. After the talk, when she signed a copy of the book I'd bought, I told her she'd made me certain I wanted to apply. "Well, you'd better hurry, then!" she said. "Because they're nearly filled up!"

I sent in my application that week.

Octavia was our first teacher at Clarion, and she was perfect. Smart, kind, but always ruthlessly honest. As my submission to the workshop, I had sent in the first chapter of a historical science fiction novel, set in Vienna during World War I. There were aliens involved, but they were described in the vaguest possible terms. In our one-on-one meeting, Octavia said she had a hard time visualizing the aliens, and she asked me to tell her what they looked like. I laughed and said, "Well, you know, I've never had any idea. I just figured it wasn't important...since they're just a metaphor, really."

Octavia gave me a Look. I stopped laughing.

From then on, I have always, always worked to follow her policy of making "even" the metaphors thoroughly concrete, solid and real...and therefore a hell of a lot more convincing and fair to the reader.

Part of what make all of her books work so well is that, no matter whether she's describing aliens, shapeshifters, or pre-Civil War plantations--and no matter how many issues of gender, race or poverty are on the line, inexorably intertwined with the story and/or the spec-fic premise--every line feels real. Her writing was that powerful, and that convincing.

She was an amazing writer and person, and she was inspiring on every level. I'm so glad I got to meet her, and so sad that this has happened.

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