Reading Report: Honoring the Legacy of Octavia E. Butler

Last night I had the privilege of participating in a reading in honor of the late Octavia E. Butler at Wayward Coffeehouse here in Seattle.

NORTHWEST WRITERS HONOR LEGACY OF OCTAVIA E. BUTLER was put together by the incomparable Caren Gussoff to support the recently released anthology “Bloodchildren: Stories by the Octavia E. Butler Scholars. ” The anthology, in turn, is to suppor the Octavia E Butler Scholarship organized by the Carl Brandon Society. I’ve blogged about Octavia’s importance to Clarion (and science fiction genre) here before, but, in short, the scholarship supports the attendance of one writer who has been accepted into any of the Clarion workshops (West, South, San Diego) and might otherwise not be able to attend.

I can’t even begin to describe Octavia’s influence in my writing. Fresh off the Patternmaster series I realized that this was the kind of writing I could aspire to. As Caren said in one of her introductions, reading Octavia’s work left a young, impressionable writer thinking: “We can do THIS?!”

I keep this photo near my writing desk with the first question she ever asked me: "What are you working on?"
Octavia Estelle Butler June 22, 1947 – February 24, 2006

She’s the reason I applied to Clarion West in 2005. The story I wrote as part of my application was basically Octavia Butler fan-fic. I got in, with every intention of receiving her critique for that story only to have her cut me from the herd the first day and invite me to submit something new. She was convinced that I could:


Gauntlet thrown, I spent the next 48 hours FREAKING OUT. Then wrote one of the longest ( and to this day one of the dearest to my heart) stories I’ve ever produced.

Octavia gave me permission to write, not in someone else’s voice, but in my own. And it’s not just me. To get an idea of how influential she was, take a peek at NK Jemisin’s (Inheritance Trilogy) interview on Butler.

So imagine my delight and surprise when Caren reached out to me to be part of a reading in memory of Octavia. The timing couldn’t have been better.

The story I wrote during Octavia’s week “Small Strange Towns” took about seven years to find a home because of length and multiple POVs. It was the story that earned a personalized rejection note from EVERY submission attempt. I even turned down a rewrite ask that would have shortened it considerably but left it gutted of the texture that Octavia had praised. I’m happy to report the story, in its full form, is forthcoming from GiganotoSaurus this fall, which has made a name for itself publishing outstanding long “short fiction.” They’ve had THREE Nebula nominated stories in two years. “Strange” will be in excellent company.

Last night we gathered at Wayward Coffeehouse to celebrate Octavia’s Legacy. The readers each represented some aspect of Octavia’s life and career with Clarion west:

Sci-fi writing legend Vonda McIntyre shared memories of being Octavia’s roommate during their Clarion.

Writer, reviewer and editor Nisi Shawl read her personal essay on Butler’s influence in her own life, as colleagues and friends.

As one of Octavia’s students, I shared the memory above, and then read an excerpt of “Strange.” I only shook a bit, and TBF said my pacing, inflection and enunciation were spot on. (Huge compliments considering he heard my read through the night before which was ROUGH)

The following readers were recipients of the scholarship named for Octavia:

Our MC extraordinaire, Caren Gussoff read from her novel in progress. (Caren is probably second only to Connie Willis in my book for being able to wrangle/entertain a crowd and do excellent justice to the readers she’s presenting. Her current SF novel, “The Birthday Problem,” will be published by Pink Narcissus Press in 2014.

Eric Owomoyela read from the story that appears in the Bloodchildren Anthology “Steal the Sky,” a rousing alt-United States steampunkesque adventure featuring airships, a pilot named Hawk and combat monkeys.

Last by not least, Dennis Y. Ginoza read an excerpt from his novel in progress. The evocative, dreamlike prose was the perfect conclusion to the evening.

I can’t tell you how much it meant being among such sterling company. I’m not the most prolific, or published writer in the group – and the opportunity to share my work shoulder to shoulder with the likes of this crew does not come often. We packed in a crowd. Although my nerves might be overestimating the crowd at about 40, it was a full house. I loved seeing the faces of friends and fellow writers among them.

At one point I looked up to see a sea of faces staring back at me (waiting for the next line) and as the surge of adrenaline crashed through my brain I thought “oh my god, please don’t let me burp right now.” (I know, weird, right?!)

That’s what I get for drinking peppermint tea before reading. Fingers crossed that we gave a good signal boost (and sales boost) for the Bloodchildren Anthology. I think Octavia would be proud of us last night. For we may be her legacy but we speak in our own voices.